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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