Friday, June 29, 2012
T. Bird and The Breaks have been touring the country spreading their funk gospel to the masses, including a show opening for The Flaming Lips in Oklahoma city. Perhaps you've heard of them? Well, tomorrow night they make their triumphant return to the city they call home. To celebrate their return the group has decided that Saturday night at the Mohawk will be Ladies' Night. That means, if you have a vagina you don't pay a cover. If you're a semi-convincing man dressed as a woman, you also don't have to pay a cover. If you have a dick, you can get tickets in advance or pay a cover at the door.
T. Bird and the Breaks - Everything Unto Me video via YouTube
T. Bird and the Breaks are not the only great Austin band playing the Mohawk Saturday night. If you arrive early enough you can also catch sets from SPEAK, Whitman, Major Major Major, Beach Day and The Sideshow Tragedy.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Last night the Austin City Limits television stage was graced by the presence of two living legends. One is 62 years old and one is part of a 62 year old musical legacy. Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples are touring together and I was lucky enough to witness a split taping by these two women. Bonnie Raitt started things off playing a set that was slightly longer than an hour, showcasing lots of material from her latest record Slip Stream while stil peppering her set with some of her most famous songs. The red-headed star, dressed in high heels, flared jeans and a striped shirt was making her third appearance on the show, thirty years after her first visit. She was very comfortable on the stage but still noted how appreciative she was to be there. Bonnie sang with grace and ease, her voice does not age it is still as clear and beautiful as ever with a timbre that can alternately exhilerate you or break your heart depending on the song. She brought both Mr. S. and myself to tears on separate occasions with the shear power of her voice.
Bonnie Raitt definitely took advantage of the television setting. One of her songs began and she noticed that one of the strings of her guitar was slightly sharp so she stopped the song and requested a "fresh guitar" to play it correct. This perfectionist quality is one she continues to be one of the best living American musicians. Her finger-picking and slide guitar work are legendary and last night she did not disappoint. Her backing band are all seasoned musicians with chops to spare and she was the consumate band-leader. One of my favorite moments, which probably won't make the broadcast happened when Raitt paused to re-apply her lipstick then pondered if Jack White does the same thing. Another great moment was the intro for one of her biggest hits, Thing Called Love. Raitt introduced the song by saying,
"Maybe we did this on a previous show but I don't care because I haven't been 62 before."
That received a huge roar of approval from the crowd. All in all, those of us who were in the audience last night received quite the treat with at least 30 minutes worth of material that won't air.
Mavis Staples had the second set of the evening. She took to the stage with a 3-piece band and 3 backup singers. They started their set with a gospel standard using only their voices and hand claps, which really set the mood for her set. Mavis was charming and she sang beautifully. She played material both old and new including a few songs from her Jeff Tweedy produced album. Staples noted that she had never playing Austin City Limits before but now that she has she's finally made it. The crowd reacted by giving her an extending standing ovation.
The biggest highlight of Staples' set was her 15 minutes, gospel rendition of I'll Take You There. As soon as the song began two middle-aged men in front of me stood up and fist bumped then proceeded to dance like no one was watching. The song felt like it belonged to all of us, it's so a part of our pop culture it seems strange to think that I was in the same room with its original singer.
After Mavis Staples' set, she left the stage then returned with Bonnie Raitt. The two singers discussed their past and talked about how they feel like sisters. Then they performed two songs together culminating in an uplifting rendition of Let the Circle Be Unbroken. To be at the Moody Theater for last night's show was truly a blessing. The show started at 8pm, we left at 11pm and that has to be condensed into a 1 hour show. I do not envy the editors. Raitt and Staples will continue to tour together this fall so, if you're reading this from outside of Austin click that tour link to see if you can catch the show in your area.
New York band, Widowspeak was the last act that I watched during SXSW 2012 and it was the perfect way to cap-off the festival. Their self-titled, 2011 album was one of my favorites releases of last year. The first time I listened to it I only got halfway through the digital review copy before I went to End of an Ear to purchase it on vinyl. It is gorgeous, haunting, shoe-gazey guitar music that sounds like it should soundtrack a David Lynch film. It is not a stretch to compare Widowspeak to Mazzy Star. Both are female fronted bands with a dark majestic sound, glass guitar tones and psychedelic-leaning rhythm sections. Escape the madness of downtown Saturday night and join me at 29th st. Ballroom for what's sure to be an outstanding set from Widowspeak.
Widowspeak - Harsh Realm (live) video via YouTube
Since Saturday night's show was booked in a last-minute fashion there are no advanced tickets. You'll have to pay a cover at the door and I really don't know how much that's going to be. I'd put it in the $10 ballpark though. I know Saturday night has a lot of great shows but I really hope to see a lot of you at the Widowspeak show, I love them so much and I want you to too.
In lots of ways Nada Surf were the canary in the coal-mine of the music industry. They had big success early in their career on a major label at a time when people couldn't steal music so easily. They had a ubiquitous summer hit with loads of radio airplay and lots of MTV love. The problem was their big hit, Popular didn't sound like anything they had made before nor after. In fact, it was a novelty hit of sorts and the band's follow-up The Proximity Effect did not have the same popular success. After that point Nada Surf had to re-learn how to sell records and earn money in the ranks of the do-it-yourself indie world. They took the lessons they learned from the their career bottle-rocket in the major label world and they changed their approach. They continued to hone their pop-songcraft sensibilities but without the money and muscle of a major label they started doing more promotional footwork. They played more radio shows, they did more meet-and-greets, they accepted more interview requests and they worked their own merch table at shows to have more face to face with their fans. In short, they created a model for how to be a successful indie-band for every band that came after them. I'm not saying every indie-band does these things but they should. Get yourself a ticket and see what I'm talking about in action at La Zona Rosa Friday night.
Nada Surf - When I Was Young video via YouTube
The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy is the fifth independently-released full-length from Nada Surf and it contains some of their finest work. The progression from Let Go to this point has been quite evident. Each album explores similar themes but the songwriting continues to mature, the hooks become more polished and the lyrics more relatable and less-obtuse.
If you're reading this and you have no idea who Nada Surf is, or your only knowledge of them is the song Popular PLEASE go listen to The Weight is a Gift. I know it sounds hyperbolic and cliche' but I would, literally, not be writing this right now if it weren't for that record. I won't get in to the details on that point but I will emphasize how important that record is to me and my life.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Tomorrow night, Red 7 will be visited by Schoolboy Q. For those of you who don't know, Schoolboy Q is part of the same California hip-hop collective that gave the world Kendrick Lamar, A$ap Rockyand Ab-soul. I don't really understand why they are called "Black Hippys" but that's what they want to call themselves and that's their business. Schoolboy Q's latest record, Habits & Contradictions, is full of trunk-shaking bass songs about doing drugs, having sex, envy and money. In other words, it's not re-inventing the wheel when it comes to hip-hop subject matter but there is no denying Q's flow. His rhymes are clever his cadences switch from Houston-slow to Chicago-quick and all the while the beats represent a new generation of west-coast artists influenced by old N.W.A. records. There are flute samples, string arrangements but also barebones drum and bass beats. I'm not going to pretend like I relate to what Schoolboy Q is saying but of all of the Black Hippy rappers he has the most commercial-ready songs. His single, Hands on the Wheel is a total jam and should really be soundtracking your summer by now.
Schoolboy Q - Hands on the Wheel video via YouTube
There are no advanced ticket sales for tomorrow night's show, so arrive at the door with cash tomorrow. I don't know what the cover will be but I'd say it's in the ballpark of $15ish. You might want to plan on spending money at the merch table too, since Schoolboy Q has been releasing mixtapes for over three years now, chances are there will be some at the venue that you haven't had a chance to see or hear before.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Tonight I had the privilege to see Dr. Dog tape a set for, the legendary, Austin City Limits television series. I'm going to be honest when I tell you that I have not been keeping up with Dr. Dog's last couple of releases. I enjoyed everything I knew of their music and even saw them perform inside End of an Ear in 2006. Well, I can assure you that they have developed immensely since that performance six years ago. Tonight they proved why they deserve a booking on ACL TV. Dr. Dog have become a fierce distillation of American Rock 'n Roll music. It seems perfectly fitting that this band would be based in America's birthplace, Philadelphia, it would not surprise me in the least to learn that these gentlemen sneeze American flag guitar picks and fart the Star Spangled Banner. Dressed in, what I can only describe as, a hodgepodge of thrift store finds complete with ridiculous hats, and sunglasses they took the stage like a band with something to prove. They performed like torch-carriers at the American-Rock Olympics and they refuse to let that flame die.
Dr. Dog - Lonesome video via YouTube
I could hear moments of all sorts of great American music in Dr. Dog's set tonight. I heard 3-part harmonies, which were reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, I heard the simple, driving psychedelic-blues of of the Grateful Dead. There were elements of The Delaware Destroyers and the southern-fried blues-rock of Lynard Skynard as well but it all came together in a completely contemporary and exciting way. Several of their songs sounded so instantly classic that I found myself wondering if they were covers or originals.
Tonight's Austin City Limits taping by Dr. Dog made me want to revisit all of their records both old and new. They had the crowd singing along, pumping their fists, jumping up and down and, generally, losing their minds. The floor was packed to the gills with fans, several of whom stood outside in 100+ degree temperatures for hours in hopes of scoring the elusive stand-by tickets. Tonight's show was also simulcast on the web allowing viewers from all over the globe to enjoy the performance from home. I'm sure it wasn't quite as thrilling to watch in front of the computer screen but with a set that spanned their career and clocked in at over 90 minutes Dr. Dog certainly did not disappoint. In fact, I expect they will win themselves lots of new fans when the episode airs in November. They were six men who became a single, cohesive rock monster and they made a new fan out of this blogger. Look for the episode on your local PBS this fall.