Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: Ryan Adams for ACL TV

Attending a taping for Austin City Limits Television is always a special experience. I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to attend these performances and it is not something I take for granted. Last night I had the chance to see Ryan Adams' perforn for the 40th season of ACL TV and it was magical. It was such a unique experience that there were moments that felt completely surreal. Before the performance, all of the house music was theme songs to television shows. I didn't think much of it when the theme to Fresh Prince of Bel Air was playing but when I returned from getting a drink and noticed that the theme from Doogie Howser M.D. was on the PA, it was clear that Ryan Adams was fucking with us. Get it? ACL is a TV show.

Ryan Adams - Gimme Something Good video via YouTube

The stage was set for an acoustic performance. There was a stool, with a guitar mic and a vocal mic on a stand alongside a decorative table, which had a little lamp and a votive candle. On the other side of the stage, there was a similar microphone setup for a standing performance. Behind the stool there were 4 acoustic guitars on stands. As is tradition, the show's executive producer came out to greet the crowd and give us a little preview of what was about to happen, complete with the "put your phone away" rule. We were told that Adams was planning an acoustic set followed by an electric set. I had heard rumblings of this already but was very excited to hear the rumors were true.

Adams ambled on the stage around 8pm to little fanfare, he acknowledged the audience with a little wave of one hand while holding a cup of hot tea in the other. He was dressed like he just came from the photo shoot for his latest album cover. Tight denim pants, tight denim jacket with a vintage tee complete with unkempt hair. I wish I had a transcript of the speeches last night because there were many and they were fantastic. Adams was witty, self-deprecating and very relaxed. He chatted with the crowd, sharing quirky tidbits of stories, which may or may not have actually inspired his songs.

When the acoustic set started there was a moment when I thought to myself, that I don't know if I've ever heard such quiet from such a large number of people. Part of what makes the ACL TV atmosphere so special is the reverence for the moment in time in which this performance is taking place. It's a concert but it's not just any concert. No one has their phones out, people are drinking but the bars inside the venue were not operational during the performance.

I don't know a lot about microphones or musical equipment but the mics being used reminded me of old radio announcer microphones. Those square mics that you see on David Letterman's desk. Whatever that style is allowed Adams to stand back away from the mic itself, with the added reverb it gave the vocals an amazingly ethereal floating texture that added to the overall transcendence of the experience. At one point between songs Adams joked that he needs the reverb to help him deal with the sound of his own voice. He also made several quips referring to how depressing his songs are, even alluding/suggesting that they could be the perfect soundtrack for anti-depression pharmaceuticals.

The opening set weaved together songs, jokes, stories, on-stage guitar tuning, inappropriate humor, crowd interaction and advice to young fans into a 70-minute performance piece. There were many mentions of how cold the room was as well, which relates to all of the guitar tuning. Adams suggested that guitar strings & penises react similarly in cold environments. Hence, why his guitars kept going out of tune. A fact, which I'm sure bothered Mr. Adams more than it bothered his audience.

Adams also singled-out, former No Depression editor and current Austin American-Statesman writer, Peter Blackstock during both is acoustic and electric sets. My sources tell me that Adams and Blackstock have a great relationship but based on a few of Adams' comments, it seems as though he still hasn't forgotten a review of Gold that Mr. Blackstock wrote many years ago. Don't get me wrong, the comments were not hostile but the ribbing was consistent. During the electric set, Adams actually false-started a song when he noticed Blackstock yawning. He stopped the tune and suggested that Blackstock join him in a jog the following morning to see who's yawning then.

During an acoustic cover of Bryan Adams' Run To You, a fan started laughing at the absurdity of Ryan Adams covering Bryan Adams. Adams turned toward that side of the crowd mid-song and remarked that he took this cover very seriously before launching into the chorus again. That cover ended the acoustic set around 9:15pm. There was a 20-minute break while the stage was reset for the electric set.

The lead single from Ryan Adams' eponymous new LP, Gimme Something Good, was the only song that appeared in both sets. It was great to hear the two interpretations of the song, the acoustic one pleading while the electric one felt more demanding. Even though Adams was joined by a full 4-piece band for the second set, it still felt like his show. This was not Adams' more jam-y backing band, The Cardinals. The backing band for his electric set was dubbed, The Shining, which is a group of four incredible session players (including L.A.-based Mike Viola) who pushed out incredibly tight renditions of all the songs you'd want to hear at a Ryan Adams show.

The photo I posted of the set lists isn't entirely accurate. The acoustic set was slightly rearranged and a song or two was eliminated, but Adams curated a set list that spanned his solo career flawlessly. Another special crowd moment came at the conclusion of When the Stars Go Blue when Adams noticed, Austin artist and personal friend, Nakia wiping tears from his eyes in the front row. He asked, "Are you crying bro?" When Nakia nodded in affirmation, Adams said, "I've gotta give you a hug." He walked toward the front of the stage and Nakia did too and they hugged it out. Adams mentioned that the display of emotion meant a lot to him and then he made a self-deprecating joke about not have feelings himself.

In a way last night's stage banter highlights were just as interesting/important to the experience as the song performance moments. It felt like Ryan Adams was hosting us. He wasn't content to simply go down a set list and crank out the tunes. He wanted to tell us which Doctor Who was his favorite (number 4) and how some of his songs sound like certain Scritti Politti songs or how a friend's drunken off-handed remark about members of REM having grey (or greying) pubes inspired a lyric. He talked about how he doesn't drink anymore and when he did he was an asshole. He poked fun at his reputation for being difficult to work with. Adams recounted a conversation between himself and his longtime manager when he was at his worst. He asked his manager why he even wanted to manage him to which he responded, "Because I like a challenge." Then he dedicated a song to the manager, while simultaneously suggesting that it would be too soft rock for Anne Murray. The song in question was Desire from Adams' Demolition.

It's hard for me to nail down "set highlights" because Ryan Adams music is so personal for every listener. My highlights were all songs that meant the most to me and I'm sure your highlights would be the same. I can tell you that I've been singing Gimme Something Good, Fix It & Come Pick Me Up all day but I can also tell you that My Winding Wheel & Sweet Carolina brought tears to my eyes.

With three and half hours worth of material, I'll be curious to see how last night's experience will be packaged for television. Part of me thinks that Adams did the two separate sets so he could scrap his least favorite completely. There are also songs that have lyrical content that wouldn't be suitable for PBS, songs that had a story or comment to the audience in the middle and even a song with a guitar tune in the middle of it. In other words, the majority of what happened last night will never resurface for a television audience and that's ok with me because I was lucky enough to be there. If you weren't there last night, you're still in for a treat when Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis share an hour of television on your local PBS station in the fall/winter.

By the way, I never mentioned it but in the photo of the set lists the numbered one (on the right) was the intended acoustic set and the other is the electric set. As I mentioned a song or two was stricken and/or played in a different order from the acoustic set but I believe the electric set is fully accurate.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Sam Smith for ACL TV by Mr. S.

Y'all, I feel like such a bonehead. I had the extraordinary pleasure to attend Sam Smith's performance for Austin City Limits Television, on the eve of Weekend One of ACL Festival (pictured above). The lovely Mr. S. was kind enough to wrote a beautiful review, which I left in the blog queue unpublished. So, while this isn't super-timely, it's still a great review and it was still an amazing experience, which you'll be able to watch on your local PBS station within the next few months!

Sam Smith - Restart video via YouTube

Disclosure teamed up with Sam Smith back in late 2012 to release "Latch" in the UK and, at the time, it was just another great dance tune from overseas with an unknown vocalist that was unlikely to make waves stateside. What a strange, long trip it's been. "Latch" eventually started to earn radio airplay here in the US early this year and it eventually peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It helped Disclosure establish themselves as artists and producers to watch and was the perfect set up to introduce American audiences to Mr. Smith. By the time his solo debut album "In The Lonely Hour" came out in here in July, it entered the album charts at number 2 and gave him a much higher profile than the electronic duo.

It didn't hurt that Smith has remained dedicated to breaking the US market by doing countless press interviews, tour dates and television appearances. Hitting town for the Austin City Limits festival, he dropped by the Moody Theater to record an episode for ACL's 40th season on PBS this fall. Backed by a 5-piece band and 3 powerful backing vocalists, Smith powered through a full set of tunes from his debut record and even threw a few choice covers into the mix.

Austin Bloggy & I had heard a rumor that he was feeling a little under the weather before the taping began, but if that was true it was completely undetectable from an audience member's point of view. Things kicked off with "Nirvana" and "Together." We've been lucky to attend several recent tapings and the energy from the crowd was palpable, much higher and excited than other recent audiences. It reflected how lucky everybody felt to be seeing an artist on the rise in such a big way, with the talent to match the success. It was also fun to see several children in crowd, including several families with young girls who were singing along to all the songs, in the front row.

"It is so hot here. My English skin can't handle this," he exclaimed. While I'm not attending the festival until next weekend, he must have flat-out melted on the festival stage the following day! Before heading into more tunes, he discussed "In The Lonely Hour" and how it had already changed his life so much. Last year, he was working in a British pub where his tasks included cleaning the bathrooms.

Now, he's touring the world in perfectly tailored suits and singing songs of unrequited love that connect with listeners from all backgrounds and orientations through the universality of the lyrics. Even though Smith is an out gay man, his tracks are more ambiguous (at least so far). As a gay man myself, I suppose the only thing that made me cringe a little was during a cover of Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" - when the word "boy" is more innocuously replaced by "you." Something so small, if left in place, could actually become a powerful statement. Instead, it's softened a little bit and I can't help but feel as though that is to not offend a broader audience. Maybe, at the end of the day, that is truly progress after all?

The set pushed into more upbeat territory after Smith confessed that, like with the work of Ms. Houston, he really only listens to female divas when he has music on in his personal life. That made his perfect mash-up of "Money On My Mind" with the added chorus of CeCe Peniston's "Finally" all the more confessional. Things appeared to be over after a too-brief 9 songs, but then Smith and the band returned for an encore that kicked off with his slower arrangement of "Latch," which appears as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of his debut record.

Not surprisingly, the performance ended with the song that solidified his success as a solo artist here in America. "Stay With Me" peaked at number two on the US singles charts and has become one of the year's biggest singles. As it started, the crowd rose to its feet and sang along with every word. It's safe to say that this won't be the last time that Smith graces the Austin City Limits stage. We're already looking forward to his next visit.

A broadcast date has not yet been set for Sam Smith's performance, but it will air this fall on PBS as part of the 40th Season of Austin City Limits, airing locally on KLRU.

Leave Your Lover
I'm Not The Only One
How Will I Know
Good Thing
Lay Me Down
Money On My Mind/Finally
Make It To Me
Stay With Me

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jenny Lewis for Austin City Limits TV

This evening I had the pleasure of seeing Jenny Lewis' first of five Austin-area performances over the next two weeks. Tonight she returned to the Austin City Limits Television stage in advance of her return to the ACL Festival Stage. The last time Ms. Lewis performed for ACL TV was with her, now defunct, band Rilo Kiley, which lead many of us to speculate that she wouldn't be performing any songs by her former band but we were wrong. Oh, how very wrong we were. As you can see from the setlist above, the night started with a somewhat slower, somewhat funkier take on Silver Linings then moved right into Rise Up with Fists. For a J. Lew fan like me, I was already in heaven.

Jenny Lewis - She's Not Me video via YouTube

Before tonight's performance I ran into my friend Nakia, who mentioned that he doesn't like how Jenny Lewis gets shoved into an Americana/Alt-Country box and he objected to classifying her in that way. It got me thinking as I listened to the set, what sort of music is this? It's not really country, it's not really rock, it's not folk or blues and it's sort of all of it at the same time. It's whatever kind of music Bonnie Raitt, Linda Rondstat or Stevie Nicks play. I tried to take notes during the set to help me write this review and under The New Messiah I wrote, "Honky Tonk Gospel Funk Revival," which kind of sums things up.

The New Messiah was definitely a set highlight but I feel like it might get cut from the broadcast just for sheer length. I could also see it being the number they run the credits over. Regardless of how it ends up in your living room, it gave me chills to hear it in person. Bad Man's World was another highlight for me. The song is so sparse, bluesy and plaintive. It really shows off Jenny Lewis' crystal clear vocal tone and the woman who sang harmonies with her on that tune was incredible. It sounded like Jenny said her name was "Allie Prass?" but nothing came up when I tried to fact check that so you'll just have to believe me I suppose.

The song Late Bloomer was one which stood out to me as a great example of what makes Jenny Lewis so great. The song is hooky, it sounds instantly classic and it's a movie in a three and half minute tune. There are many things to admire about Lewis' songwriting. Her ability to make horrible things sound beautiful, her gift for turning a phrase and her ability to spin a tale are just a few.

Jenny Lewis closed her set with a gorgeous version of Acid Tongue, with herself, a guitar and her 5-piece band + Jonathan Rice singing harmonies around a single microphone. That song is already incredibly powerful but tonight's performance brought a tear to my eye. That was followed by an encore of With Arms Outstretched performed by Lewis and two of the woman from her band.

Tonight's performance will be a part of Austin City Limits Television's 40th Season on PBS. The season premiers this Saturday, October 4th with Beck but don't miss the special tribute to the show airing the evening prior. I suspect the episode with Jenny Lewis will be split with another artist and I'll be curious to see who she is paired with. I know Ryan Adams will be taping for the 40th Season as well but I feel like he might get a full hour? I don't know how those things are decided.

If you didn't get a chance to see Jenny Lewis' performance this evening, you can still catch her Official ACL Fest Late Night Show at Stubb's. She's also playing both weekends of ACL Fest as well as a SOLD OUT show at Gruene Hall. In other words, homegirl is working it.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Review: Future Islands at ACL TV

Last night I joined my fellow Austin Hipsteratti to witness the live performance of Future Islands committed to "tape" for Austin City Limits Television. As many of you know, I am fortunate to be able to attend many of these tapings and I can tell you the best ones are by artists who have an obvious reverence for the show. It's a very special experience for the audience and the performer to be at an ACL TV taping. For people like me who grew up in rural parts of the country, ACL TV was a connection to a music world that seemed so far away. It existed in its own reality inside the television. When an artist recognizes that their performance for the show exists within an important historical spectrum, you can feel that energy coming from the stage.

Future Islands -Seasons (Waiting On You) video via YouTube

I caught Future Islands' most recent performance at the Mohawk earlier this year and I had a great time at the show. However, they seem to be a very divisive band even within my own household and it seems the cause for such passionate reactions on both ends of the spectrum is directly related to the lead-singer, Sam. Future Islands is four people. There is a keyboardist/sampler/sequencer dude, there's a drummer (who plays with headphones), there's a bass player and there's a singer. Not counting the vocals, they are a 3-piece band who pumps out some really tight New Wave music. If they had no vocalist, or a different vocalist they would still be a good band. Sam is that X factor. His vocals shift from balladeer to hardcore singer in a moments notice. The songs lyrics are very personal and they are delivered with an over-the-top passion. Sam's performance has elements of an evangelical preacher, an interpretive dancer and a Shakespearian actor. He emotes, he gyrates, he sometimes sounds like Cookie Monster and he beats his chest like Tarzan. This may not be the most appealing description but to someone like me, who's a fan, all of this comes together to create an incredibly compelling performance.

Even in the moments that I can't take Sam seriously, I can't take my eyes off of him. He manages to be incredibly sexy and powerful but still vulnerable and a bit weird. When the band took the stage, I remarked how they looked like substitute teachers and the person next to me said, "That's what I love about him." There's something about this band that makes you want to root for them. I understand the detractors. Sometimes it's hard to take the performance seriously because it is so over the top. Sometimes the cookie monster voice can take you out of the experience but I feel like part of the point of music is to escape your reality and enter into the reality of that moment. Whether you like them or not, Future Islands create their own musical reality. I'm so excited that last night's performance will be beamed to public television stations across the country so some kid in rural wherever can be a part of Future Islands' reality for 30 minutes.

I should also note, because many of you who are reading this already know, that my beloved Mr. S. enjoyed himself more than he would ever admit. After their show at the Mohawk he was not ready to pledge his allegiance to the flag of Future Islands and he still isn't BUT last night's performance for ACL TV was a much more controlled performance than the set at the Mohawk. I don't think the band held anything back for ACL TV but I do feel like they were consciously more refined for the larger audience.

Last night's taping will be part of the 40th Season of ACL TV, which will premiere next month with an episode featuring Beck. I was lucky enough to attend that taping as well, and I can tell you that it's a greatest hits set rather than a check-out my new LP set. I love Beck's new LP and was fully prepared to be immersed in sad Beck but getting funky Mixed Bizness Beck is NEVER a bad thing.

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Jungle at Mohawk

Wednesday night I took a brief respite from the confines of my apartment to watch a band who came all the way from England to perform at the Mohawk. I'm not sure if the show was fully sold out but it certainly felt like there were enough people present. I left the apartment late so I did not arrive in time to catch any of the support acts. Sorry y'all, I'm sure you were great I know I'll be kicking myself in the future for missing you. I entered on the numbered street side (11th?), which ended up being a stupid way to come in because I watched the show from the ground level near the merch booth. Before the merch booth was there, it was my favorite spot to watch an outside show at the Mohawk. For my money, the ground-level of the Mohawk anywhere under the roof gives you the best sound. It's a tricky place to plant though because people are always trying to move in every direction there. I usually try to wedge myself against a wall, like I'm in a rock n roll timeout. I say all of this because Jungle sounded impeccable. Most of their songs have four people singing all at once, which can be a hot mess in a live setting. With seven people on the stage and at least four of them singing, I was incredibly impressed with how balanced everything was. Throughout the first song I assumed they were performing with a backing track because they sounded so good but eventually I started to believe they're just that tight.

Jungle - Time video via YouTube

I had heard good things about Jungle's debut LP, and I knew they earned a lot of buzz at SXSW. I was even able to hear them for a few minutes during Lollapalooza but they certainly lived up to the hype. Their sound draws you in, and as the set progressed you could feel the energy of the crowd elevating. As someone who likes dance and R&B music, I'm really excited about this indie(ish) movement in which the groove is king. Artists like How to Dress Well, FKA Twigs, Jessy Lanza, Chet Faker and inc. are all turning R&B on its head. Stripping the style down to the essence of the groove. Jungle is certainly coming from a more traditional space than the artists I just listed but the groove is still king. When their set started, I was immediately reminded of LCD Soundsystem's Nike Run Mix aka 45:33. Since that mix is intended for a workout, it starts with a sort of warm-up bpm. Whatever the bpm is in Part 2 of that mix, that's Jungle's sweet spot.

After a few songs I dubbed Jungle's sound Chillwave Bee Gees, which kind of means nothing and kind of means everything. There's a band from Australia called, Movement who I think fits this mold as well. It's not straight-up disco, it's more loungey than disco and it's not straight-up R&B either. Whatever you do or don't want to call it, it sounds good and Jungle sounded great playing it. They sounded incredibly slick and I don't expect they'll be doing small club tours for very long. Granted I was on the ground level so I couldn't see the whole crowd but everyone I could see what feelin some type a way about Jungle.

If you're a fan of any of the artist I've listed in this post, you should check out all of the other artists I listed. They don't all sound alike and some are more challenging than others but I feel like if you can appreciate one of them you can appreciate all of them.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Should I Leave the House Tonight?

Well, here we are. I'm dusting some digital cobwebs off of Austin Bloggy Limits because there's a bunch of good shows happening this weekend and if I don't post about them, I'll forget everything I wanted to see. Places you may or may not see me this evening include: Beerland, Hotel Vegas, Cheer-Up Charlies or My Couch.

All of these venues offer an array of positive reasons to attend the festivities they are hosting this evening. Beerland has Jonly Bonly, Trustees, Party Girl and Borzoi tonight. These bands may not be household names to you but they all offer the sort of visceral, authentic rock 'n roll experience I desire and deserve on a dreary night like tonight. Also, I've really enjoyed what I've heard from Put Together, the new LP from Jonly Bonly and I want to see those songs performed live.

Hotel Vegas also has a killer line-up tonight, which also features local bands with brand new records. Spray Paint's new LP, Clean Blood, Regular Acid, won't be released until next week but you can stream it right now via Stereogum and I have a feeling it MIGHT be available for purchase at tonight's gig. The Rebel is performing tonight in support of their new LP, K Rot, which you purchase online or in person right now. Tonight's Hotel Vegas gig isn't listed as an LP release show for John Wesley Coleman because he already did that but his latest, The Love That You Own is also a new release. Damn y'all! What's with all the new releases in September? All this talk of new releases made me lose track of the line-up, which also includes Ghetto Ghouls and Marriage. If you're accustom to very sterile, controlled concert experiences you should come to this show just so you can see how rock is supposed to be experienced.

Tonight's show at Cheer-Up Charlies ALSO features lots of great Austin bands with recent music releases. This show explores the more pop-music leaning side of Austin's rock music scene, which I'm also a big fan of. If my suggestions up to this point have seemed a bit "noisy" to your delicate aesthetic, then this venue might be a more appropriate choice for you this evening. There are THIRTEEN bands on the line-up for this event but at this point several of them have already performed. If I end up here tonight, I'll want to be there by 9:30 to catch Growl but the line-up is solid from top to bottom.

The fourth option I presented was My Couch, which features the ability to sit around in my underwear watching pre-recorded television, movies, access to pre-purchased beverages and snacks including alcohol. It does not require me to ride the bus, find a parking spot, deal with rain, make awkward conversation or walk. So, as you can see there are lots of excellent ways for me to spend my evening. What are you up to tonight? Should we do shots? Did you notice I started this post with the idea of highlighting stuff happening all weekend but then I only made it through tonight? You're welcome.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Did I Fall Asleep?

Did I fall asleep? What's been happening with you lately? I feel like we never see each other, and it's totally my fault. I don't even know where to begin and I feel like in the interest of TLDR we should just pretend nothing happened and talk about today. That's what old friends do. You don't have to re-hash everything, you just pick-up where you left off. So, let's start there shall we?

The Both tour is back in Austin, this time they're playing the Mohawk. I expect by the time you're reading this, tickets will be sold-out but if they're not, you should get yourself some. The last time Aimee Mann and Ted Leo played Austin, they were at the Paramount- a much more austere setting. I'll be interested to hear people's thoughts who were fortunate enough to attend both the theater and club performances.

The Both - Milwaukee video via YouTube

Also on my radar this week: tomorrow night's ACL TV taping with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Friday night at Mohawk with Crocodiles, Tweens & Sweet Talk and Letting Up Despite Great Faults' album release show at Holy Mountain Saturday night.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down's ACL TV taping tomorrow night will be streamed via YouTube starting at 8p CST. So, even if you didn't manage to get your hands on tickets, or even if you don't live in Austin you can watch tomorrow night's performance. You can also just grab yourself a ticket for TATGDSD's Saturday evening show at the Mohawk.

Speaking of the Mohawk, Friday night's show with Crocodiles, Tweens & Sweet Talk is the rock 'n roll medicine your body desires. Want to know why people love to see bands play loud rock 'n roll in small clubs? Spend $10 and swing by the Mohawk around 9:30 or 10:00 and you'll figure it out pretty quickly.

Tweens - Forever video via YouTube

This is a top to bottom great bill. So, don't show up late because you don't want to miss Sweet Talk and they're going on first.

Saturday night has several shows worth mentioning but I wanted to highlight Letting Up Despite Great Faults' show at Holy Mountain because it is an album-release show and I really dig, Neon, the new album. Tickets will only set you back $5 and the show is being presented by my friends at Austin Town Hall, Pop Press International & Side One Track One.

I'd also like to draw your attention to the line-up at Cheer-Up Charlies Saturday night, which starts with The Bad Lovers and finishes with A Giant Dog. Throw in some excellent food-truck grub, plenty of breezy outdoor spaces to relax and reasonably-priced beer and you pretty much can't go wrong.

I don't usually recommend shows on Sunday nights because I'm in my thirties and I get sleepy. However, this Sunday night Sylvan Esso is playing at Emo's and I plan on being there. If you want to be there too, get yourself a ticket and we can get up, get down with Sylvan Esso together.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Guest Blogger Review: Nick Cave at ACL TV by Matt Shiv

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Austin City Limits taping
July 20, 2014
by Mr. S.

In the upcoming documentary 20,000 Days On Earth, Nick Cave discusses his love for performing live, but indicates that he loves to focus on a small handful of people from the front row and frighten them. Hardcore fans of the Bad Seeds are not easily scared, but this revelation did make me curious about how his taping in the Austin City Limits studio would go on Sunday night. The perimeter of the stage is typically roped off to provide room for the camera operators to capture the performance, keeping the audience at a slight distance.

20,000 Days On Earth - 1080p Trailer from Drafthouse Films on Vimeo.

20,000 Days On Earth - Official Trailer via Vimeo

When we walked into the venue for the taping, there was a major change to the way that the stage was set up. Two small runways were jutting out from the front of the normal stage. Two cameras normally set up directly in front of the stage were moved back to risers near the soundboard. Two camera crane operators were also positioned further back than normal. It gave us a great vantage point from where we were sitting and made me even more excited to see how the set would unfold.

As the band emerged on to the stage, Mr. Cave almost immediately took advantage of the runways. From where we were sitting, it looked as though he was floating into the crowd. The set started off with “We Real Cool” and “Jubilee Street”, two back-to-back songs from the band’s most recent album Push The Sky Away. Cave strutted around, punctuating the lyrics with the brazen demeanor of a preacher warning his flock of the fire and brimstone they’re facing. The first sign that the band would be digging deeper into their catalog came when they started to play “Tupelo,” their 1985 single from The Firstborn Is Dead. One of the band’s most recognizable songs, 1994’s “Red Right Hand” shook the venue next, getting louder and moodier as it went on.

Cave’s first real attempt at banter came as he introduced “Mermaids” off of Push The Sky Away. He noted that the song would not make the television broadcast because of the lyric “I was the match that would fire up her snatch,” the logic of which seemed a little odd only because he had previously improvised a very loud ‘motherfucker’ during “Red Right Hand.” Feeding off the energy from the crowd pressed up against the stage, Cave became visibly annoyed by the rest of the audience who were seated quietly throughout the set. He tried to wave people from the stands down onto the floor, perhaps unaware that the only free space left at stage level was closed off for the cameras and crew members, chastising those of us who were seated as “lazy fuckers.”

The band dug a little deeper as the set continued, pulling out the title track to their 1984 debut album From Her To Eternity and both “Love Letter” and “God Is In The House” from 2001’s No More Shall We Part. One of the highlights in the documentary 20,000 Days On Earth is footage from a performance of “Higgs Boson Blues,” a dreamlike dirge that somehow manages to reference Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus. It was a great success during the taping as well, enrapturing the crowd gathered at his feet as well as those who looked down more reverently from the balconies above. It paired nicely with “The Mercy Seat”, a 1988 single that is one of the band’s most iconic tunes.

What happened next caused a few truly frightened folks to flee early, but it was one of the highlights of the night for me. “Stagger Lee” originally appeared on 1996’s Murder Ballads and it is a traditional song that has been performed over the years by everybody from Pat Boone to the Black Keys. It’s safe to say that Nick Cave’s version is the most profane and wicked of them all. If “Mermaids” was somehow questionable for making it into the broadcast, the recorded footage of “Stagger Lee” is likely to be locked in a vault for all eternity. Cave continued to cavort between the two stage runways through the number, which has to be the most offensive song to ever be performed during a taping in the history of Austin City Limits. It was a few minutes in by the time he got to the lyrics “I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know and I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole." By that moment, the crowd had thinned out a touch.

The die hard audience members went wild by the song’s conclusion and then we headed into what turned out to be the final song of the night, the title track to Push The Sky Away. There were visible indications that Cave continued to be annoyed by the audience (or other unknown factors) by the end of the song and the band waved goodbye, walking off stage. For a few tense moments, it seemed as though the crew was prepping for an encore, but then the chance of that happening ended almost as quickly as it began. The house lights came up and the show was officially over.

All-in-all, this incredible performance lasted for 90 solid minutes. Even though there are at least two fairly lengthy tracks that will need to be edited out of the final broadcast, that should still leave plenty for producers to work with. Here’s hoping that it turns into a full hour-long episode when it airs this fall as part of the show’s 40th season on PBS, likely around the same time that Drafthouse Films releases 20,000 Days On Earth into select theaters nationwide.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I Heart the Band: Gems

I'm not exactly sure when I first heard the band Gems because I feel like I was mixing them up with Gem Club and/or Gemini Club? Regardless, I was already following them on Soundcloud so they were at least marginally on my radar. Then a couple of weeks ago whilst trolling my Soundcloud stream, the song Scars came up. I was floored. The way the tracks drops in is huge. Then the vocal comes and it starts out as a fairly straight-forward R&B vocal until the chorus comes and it melts into ethereal Cocteau Twins arena. Is Trip-Hop being reborn? In a post-iPod world everyone listens to every genre and contemporary artists don't feel hemmed-in by what sounds they're supposed to use. Last night's show at Red 7 featured three bands who are blurring the line between indie-rock and R&B music.

Austin band, Young Pharaohs started things off last night. I had seen the name but had not heard them before. I was excited to discover that Austin has its own Vaporwave/PBR&B band. I don't really know what to call the genre so I'm borrowing two ideas that loosely apply here. Think How to Dress Well, Active Child, inc. and artists of that ilk. Basically it's pop music for serious people like me.

Gems performed the middle set last night. The band consists of one man and one woman both of whom have keyboards, pedals, sequencers and the there's even a guitar! There wasn't a lot of chatter from the stage but the band did seem humble and approachable when they did speak they were gracious and seemed generally excited about performing. When you hear pop music recorded it can be very deceiving so I always reserve full-on adoration until I see a live performance. I can assure you, Gems deserve full-on adoration. The vocals were incredible, they had great stage presence. They were very presentation conscious. They had white lights at their feet that were cued only occasionally to create dramatic stroboscopic lighting during key performance moments. They also had a projected image that eventually became animated. The audience was definitely drawn into the performance and a lot of people who were there for the headliners became and remained attentive throughout Gems' set. They don't have very much released, purchasable material at the moment but as soon as they get an LP or two under their belts, they'll be a headlining act. Last night they delivered one of my favorite sets of the year, I look forward to the band's return to Austin.

Hundred Waters headlined last night, touring in support of their newly-released LP, The Moon Rang Like a Bell. I appreciate the new LP and I thought their performance last night was good. I'm just somewhat reserved about overall adoration. Maybe if I hadn't been so head-over-heels for Gems' performance I would have enjoyed Hundred Waters more? It's not that I didn't like it but I didn't feel entranced by the performance either. There was something about the performance that fell flat for me. The songs aren't super dynamic and it felt very performance-y. It seemed like the members of Hundred Waters earned their chops playing more recitals than gigs. That's not coming from any sort of place of knowledge, that's just a snap judgement based on a style of performance. I felt the same way a thousand years ago when I saw Antony & the Johnsons. Antony is an incredible talent but he sings so effortlessly it didn't feel like it came from his guts.

I suppose if I'm being honest, the other reason I wasn't blown-away by Hundred Waters is because I've seen Braids twice and they do a similar thing in a way that makes you question your own existence. Also, if I were to review the bad review I've just written I would say it's not good. Lacks balls. Carry on.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Jeff Tweedy for ACL TV

Jeff Tweedy returned to the Austin City Limits Television stage Friday night and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. Jeff Tweedy has graced the ACL TV stage several times in the past with his band Wilco but Friday evening’s taping was a showcase for brand-new songs from an upcoming solo record.

Jeff Tweedy - Thrash Lab Documentary video via YouTube

Tweedy explained that he started recording the new album playing all of the instruments himself because he thought that’s what you were supposed to do for a solo album. After awhile his son Spencer started playing drums and eventually his solo sound was fleshed-out with a full band of friends and houseguests. Friday evening’s set was essentially two sets in one. The first hour was Tweedy with a full backing band playing all-new songs from the upcoming LP. The second hour of performance was mostly solo, with a bit of help from the ladies of Lucius on backing vocals. Incidentally, the ladies of Lucius lent their vocals to both the full band and solo sets. The evening closed with a full band song followed by a solo number. In other words, it was everything you would want from a, sans Wilco, Jeff Tweedy set.

I know it can be tricky when you go to a concert and the artist plays an hour of brand-new material but in the context of an incredibly reverent ACL TV audience it was perfect. The new material didn’t sound like Wilco material but it definitely sounded like Jeff Tweedy material. The lyrics were clever and poignant the melodies sounded instantly classic and the rhythms were playful. I think there was even a song in 5/4 time! How do you like that for rhythmically playful?

The majority of the set I witnessed Friday night will never be aired on your local PBS but the parts that do make it are going to be magical. Solo, with Wilco, with Uncle Tupelo or even on an episode of Parks & Recreation, Jeff Tweedy is a national treasure. You, me, and everyone we know should see him perform every chance we get.

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