Little Lies and Massive Dreams

My name is Bear. I play in a band called Talking About Commas and live and work in Providence, RI. I like music.
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Nov 14, 2006

The Slip: 11/11 at the Independent, San Francisco, CA

Hot on the heels of their first studio album in 4 years, the Slip have hit the road on a cross-country tour. For the west coast leg they are headlining, with the Montreal group The Lovely Feathers opening, before hopping on with My Morning Jacket in Chicago. Last Saturday night the Slip stopped by one of their favorite haunts, San Francisco’s The Independent. The Slip have been playing the Independent for a couple years now and it is showing. They sold-out the club for the first time ever. To quote Vince Vaughn, “Yes, my boys are all grows up.”

The boys (I refer to the Slip as “the boys”. Some have used that nickname for the Dead or Phish. The Slip are “The Boys” in my musical world) took the nicely decorated stage (there were leaves all over the mic stands and Andrew had his PVC pipes set up and all disco'd out) and launched into "The Soft Machine". Well, technically they played the intro first, which is tracked as “First Panda in Space” on the new record, but I think of it as a part of “The Soft Machine". After a solid “Poor Boy” they played the first of 3 new songs that night. “Little Song” is a nice slow tune that evolves in to an indie-pop foot stomper.

The Slip have many east coast friends that have relocated to the west (myself included) and it’s always a big reunion when the boys come to town. Brad noted this by dedicating “Wine and White Soda” to “old friends”. One of my night's highlights was the new acoustic tune “Life in Disguise” which I last heard on a rooftop last summer (see my “funny story” sidenote in my Eisenhower review below). This song is even more amazing live with Marc and Andrew providing perfect backing textures before picking it up for the “name dropping” ending lines. The boys closed the show in the same manor they have been doing a lot these days. Although “Children of December” is one of my favorites, the band has beat this song to death. It’s unfortunate that a band with such a huge, diverse repertoire basically uses one song as a fall back crutch to close “big” shows.

The encore was the best part of the night. Andrew started it off with the intro to “Happy Snails” complete with the PVC pipes. After a nice but predictable rendition of the ballad “If One of Us Should Fall”, I could see Brad telling Marc and Andrew what to go into next during the end of the song. Within seconds they segued into a rediculous version of jazzy/space-funk instrumental “Get Me with Fuji”, which proves they don’t have to play the indie-rock card in order to bring the fucking house down.

I completely missed the Lovely Feathers set so I can’t say how they were. I heard they were loud and the keyboardist played the whole show in his boxers, which apparently was not a flattering look. Also, sorry for the lack of details to this review, but I was hanging with a lot of old friends and probably drank about 3 too many Whiskey and Coke doubles.

Set list: The Soft Machine, Poor Boy, Little Song, Airplane/Primitive, Even Rats, Wine and White Soda, Life in Disguise, There's a Lie, slow acoustic tune?, Moderate Threat > Cowboy Up > Paper Birds, Children of December

E: Happy Snails, If One of us Should Fall > Get Me with Fuji

Nov 8, 2006

Album Review: The Slip's "Eisenhower"

After years of waiting, The Slip ( finally released their new album in to the world. Even though Eisenhower is the first studio release by the band in over four years, it has hardly any new material on it. The band has been road testing the bulk of this album since as far back as 2003, but even the oldest songs sound fresh on the new disc. Eisenhower is a cohesive collection of staples from BAM’s current live repertoire. In fact, "Mothwing Bite" is the only song fans haven’t (supposed to have) heard yet. This record, to me, has a feeling like a new home. What I mean is that when you move into a new house, you have all your old stuff with you, but the you get to set it all up in a different place. Something old, yet with a new style.

The album starts with perhaps the band’s two most famous songs. "Children of December" won best rock song in a Boston-based contest years ago and "Even Rats" has been featured on the popular playstation game "Guitar Hero" for about a year. So the first "new" recording I heard on the disc was the elegant piano intro to the amazing ballad "If One of Us Should Fall". This song was also released on the band’s 2003 release Alivealectric (which proves it was written before M. Ward’s song "Post War" which has an almost identical feel) but fans will love the slick and properly arranged studio version. Next comes the Marc penned (when this song first appeared live it was known as "Marc’s new tune", I assume he wrote the main riffs at least) "Airplane/Primitive". Although similar, the studio version doesn’t compare to what this song does live, which is definitely a good thing. The Slip are one of the best live bands in America and cannot be contained in a studio setting.

"Suffocation Keep" makes a glorious return on the album. The song, once played frequently, has been shelved (aside from a few bust outs) from their live shows as of late. Brad has ditched the old timey vocal effect for the soft, raspy approach and with the addition of a cello and Nellie Fleischner’s siren-like backing vocals, the song makes a nice transition into the studio world. "Life in Disguise" is the eighth track on the album, and possibly my new favorite. Co-written by Isaac Taylor (James’ son, mmm... Jameson), this sweet acoustic tune shows how far Brad Barr has come with his vocal abilities. (Funny story: One of the first times I ever heard this song Brad Barr was playing it on a rooftop in San Francisco after a show at the Hotel Utah. Drunkenly, I started to accompany him with the best knee/thigh slapping ever, or so I thought. He was so cool about it that he even gave me a knee slap solo mid song. What a champ that guy is.)

"Mothwing Bite" is the only song on the record that has yet to be performed live. It is perhaps the most poppy offering on the disc as well. Let’s just say it’s really polished. The song’s refrain contains the album’s best line too, "Boom, my lord, if you ever get back to Little Compton". That’s right, my hometown (which the Barr Bros. frequented many summers in the past) gets a shout-out in a Slip song. ‘Bout effing time. A great, well produced but not restrained version of "Paper Birds" closes the album. This song has perhaps the hottest intro going (which is separately tracked and named "The Original Blue Air") and proves that although The Slip may sing a lot more, they haven’t forgotten how to write groundbreaking, multi-part, musical masterpieces.

Rating: Grand Slam

key tracks: "Even Rats", "Suffocation Keep", "Life in Disguise", "Paper Birds"

Nov 2, 2006

Trey band kicks off Vegoose

I arrived in Las Vegas for the Vegoose festival late Friday evening with my dancing shoes on. After dumping my bags at the front desk of the Jockey Club (which was lovingly dubbed "the Jock Strap" by some of the 8 inhabitants of room 504), I headed down the strip (and a mile or so off it) to the Orleans Arena for the first of many shows to be seen this wonderful weekend.

Trey Anastasio helped kick the second annual Vegoose festival off with a late-night show supported by pedal steel virtuoso, Robert Randolph and his Family Band. The arena, at least three times as large as last year’s sold out Alladin Theatre venue, was about 1/4 full for most of the show which hinted that fans have begun to lose faith in Trey’s capability to throw down at hyped up gigs. I must say though, Trey had some fun in store for us regardless of the empty seats.

After the so-so "Simple Twist up Dave", the band launched into the first of 4 Phish/Trey hybrids with the grammy nominated "First Tube" which featured a raucous outro jam completely atypical from any "First Tube" I’ve seen. Next, he invited Robert Randolph to sit in for a go at Jimi Hendrix’s classic "Stone Free" and the swamp-funk of the Phish favorite "46 Days". After a few less than desirable new tunes Trey closed his set with an outstanding blissed out version of the groovy launchpad "Gotta Jibboo". Although there were some moments of mediocre meandering, most of the jams tonight flowed forward while building lots of energy. It’s also great to see a real light show again, I’ve been seeing far too many indie bands who wouldn’t know how to light a candle, much less the empty canvass of an arena wall.

Trey’s support for the show, Robert Randolph and his Family Band, played a rockin’ set full of many songs from their new album (I presume, I didn’t recognize any songs) and warmed the crowd up nicely for Trey with their southern blues tinged pop-rock. I must say, RR’s bassist has one of the best falsetto voices going.

Set list: Simple Twist Up Dave, First Tube, Stone Free*, 46 Days*, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Push On Til the Day, What’s Done, Goodbye Head, Plasma, Gotta Jibboo -> jam
E: Mr. Completely, Tuesday
* w/ Robert Randolph on pedal steel guitar.

Vegoose: Day 1

As I walked through the gates to the first day of the Vegoose festival, I heard the flutters of Cat Power’s "The Greatest" floating through the air. The queen of introverted performance and her Memphis Rhythm band (featuring members of Stax Records’ house band, Booker T and the MG’s) kicked off my festival in the early afternoon last Saturday. When I say "my festival", I mean just that. With over 40 bands and a plethora of shops, art exhibits, impersonators, costumes, chance run-ins and even carnival rides, there is no way any 2 people at Vegoose experienced the exact same event.

This year’s festival was held at the same location as last years, but the layout was slightly altered. Instead of using the Sam Boyd Stadium as the "Double Down" stage, this year all the stages were in the same field located behind the stadium. This allowed for more set time accuracy and a lot less walking between stages. However, this also caused a lot more audio bleeding between stages. Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch even quipped in between songs, "You guys hear that noise coming from the other stages, good, it’s part of our show."

After Cat Power’s amazing set, which drew heavily and sequentially from 2006's The Greatest, I walked all of 50 yards to see freak-jazz icons Medeski, Martin and Wood with special guest, saxophone legend Maceo Parker. Just one example of how my different musical worlds came within inches of colliding that weekend. The highlight of the afternoon sets, for me, came with the freight train with a hard blues engine and an indie-pop caboose known as the Raconteurs. Despite the intense heat bearing down (Jack White announced to that "An old goth queen like myself might melt if I don’t put on some sun screen.") the band raged through a set of songs from their only album, Broken Boy Soldiers. However, the Racs’ mixed things up by instilling new arrangements and feels into the songs and even switching vocal lines. For example, on the single "Steady As She Goes" Jack sang Brendan's lines on the record and vice versa.

Next cam the only reggae act of the festival, Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley and his huge stage entourage which included a flag waver. That’s right, one of his band members danced around the stage waving a Rasta flag the entire set. I want that man’s job. Marley ran through some hits from his latest Welcome to Jamrock album while mixing in some of his father’s classics like the outstanding version of "Concrete Jungle".

The Mars Volta played after Marley and about 30 seconds into their set I ran as far away as possible. I don’t know what people see in those guys. All of them seem to be in their own world just wanking away on their instruments (unimpressively I might add) without any band congruence whatsoever. Little did we know what a great choice we had made to ditch the Volta party. Our crew wandered in to the Clubs Tent without knowing what brilliance we were about to witness. The Yard Dogs Road Show is unlike anything I have ever seen. Their 10 plus members (all dressed in crazy outfits recalling the days of Vaudville) all played multiple instruments and had tremendous circus side show talents. Their act had swanky horn driven hooks mixed with comedy, magic tricks, sword swallowing and Burlesque style choreography. Check this group out, you will be blown away.

After hanging on the west side of the festival for the whole day, I ventured to the main stage to receive my dose of straight ahead rock and roll. First up, the Black Crowes. When the Black Crowes announced their break up in 2000, I figured I had missed the boat on perhaps my favorite Southern rock band of all time (Well maybe they're in second between Skynyrd (3) and the Allman Bros.(1)). But as you all know, band breakups are as successful as marriages these days. Sometimes when you're at a festival with 30,000 people the best moments come when you’re alone. While my friends were all at Jurassic 5, I indulged in the rock and roll that saved my highschool life. When the Crowes’ busted through hits like "Halfwhere to Everywhere", "High Head Blues", "Jealous Again" and "Remedy" I got down harder than the winner of a "pants-down dance-off".

The first day culminated with legends, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The crowd noticeably headed for the gates halfway through their set once Tom started to deviate from his uber-hits, but nothing would have stopped me from enjoying one of my 7th grade heros. Petty, dressed in a ruffled leather jacket and his standard yellow telecaster, sauntered around the stage with his hands high in the air as if he was recreating Russell’s "Golden God" scene from Almost Famous. Before playing the Bo Diddly penned "Mannish Boy" Petty stated that they had learned the song from the Yardbirds which proves just how long the Heartbreakers had been doing their thing. To close the show, Petty sent off the remainder of the crowd to the strip with an average run-through of his first hit, "American Girl", while echoes of "Oh yeahs" and "Alright"’s swam in our heads giving us Vegas folks some advice to try and "make it last all night".

Set lists of bands I knew well enough to take. A "?" indicates I’m not sure of the songs title.

Cat Power: intro -> The Greatest, Living Proof, Lived in Bars, Could We, Empty Shell, Willie, the Moon, Sweet Time?, Satisfaction, Where is My Love, Anything But Love*
* a cappella with her whole band lined up front stage chorus line style.

The Raconteurs: Intimate Secretary, Level, Steady as She Goes, Together, Store Bought Bones, It Ain’t Easy?, Broken Boy Soldiers, Blue Veins, Hands

The Black Crowes: Halfway to Everywhere, Sting Me, Gone, Seeing Things, High Head Blues, Up on Cripple Creek, The Seven Seas?, Soul Singing, Wiser Time, Cursed Diamond, Jealous Again, By Your Side?, Remedy

Tom Petty: Listen to Her Heart, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, I Won’t Back Down, Free Fallin’, Saving Grace, Mannish Boy, blues tune?, Good to Be King, blues tune?, Cabin Down Below, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Refugee, Runnin’ Down a Dream
E: You Wreck Me, Mystic Eyes, American Girl

Vegoose: Day 2

You’d be surprised how hard it is to get somewhere in Las Vegas by noon (even when you gain an hour the night before). However, I did manage to make it to the festival for Band of Horses’ 12:20 set, and no I didn’t even have time to indulge in a tasty casino buffet beforehand. After last year, where I showed up at 3 or 4pm, I told myself I was going to see as much music as humanly possible this year.

So a little after noon with an overpriced festival smoothie in hand, I watched one of my favorite new bands with about 50 other champs who rallied to get out that early. I first shunned Band of Horses due to their similarity to the early My Morning Jacket sound but after giving them a chance, I soon fell in love with their only release, Everything All the Time . Thankfully, seeing who these guys were destroyed any lingering comparisons to MMJ. They started with the slow and sweet "Part One" about which the lead singer stated, "We thought we’d start you guys off with a boring song, so it can only get better from here." The band then marched through a set heavy on their album while tossing in a lackluster new tune and a decent Eels cover to close. One disappointment was that they only played for 35 minutes when their slot was for 45. I mean, what’s the world coming to when bands big enough to play the Fillmore can’t even play a 45 minute set?

After B of H, I ran over to the nearby "Snake Eyes" stage to see what I was really there for. Of all the bands playing this weekend, Built to Spill is my absolute favorite. I placed myself front and center and got ready to bask in the warm Nevada sun while BTS showered me with three-guitar soundscapes. What differs BTS from most 2 or 3 guitar bands is these guys barely play chords. They divvy up the melody and rhythm so well that everyone is playing something different on various parts of the neck while conveying the harmonic progression of each song perfectly. Trying to make up for B of H’s short set, BTS (you following my abbreviations clearly?, good) hit the stage 10 minutes early and started to jam out in A major (no I don’t have perfect pitch, I was so close I could see which frets they were playing, nice). Annoyingly, the stage manager was a hard ass and came out and told the band they couldn’t play loud until their scheduled start time. So BTS jammed super quietly and at 1:15 on the dot, they exploded with a storm of feedback, fuzz and reverb laden guitars. After 20 minutes since the start of the jam they found their way into the new hit "Traces". Unfortunately during "Traces", Doug Martsch’s effects rig fell off the bench next to him and seemingly broke as he was rewiring his gear mid-song. After another track from their new album, "Liar" (which was aborted and restarted), the band left You in Reverse completely and threw down a set of classics. The highlight for me came with the olde (you like that spelling miss j?) gem "Nowhere Nothing Fuckup" which I had heard on late nineties BTS bootlegs but had never seen. After the feedback frenzy at the end of "Randy Described Eternity", Doug threw his laminate out in the crowd and my friend Parker got it! He got to go backstage and Doug signed his costume (some O.R. scrubs) with his nickname (apparently), Dug. Nicely done Dug and Co., maybe one day people will give you guys some more credit and you’d be headlining festivals like this.

As the feedback from BTS lingered, I walked over to the Rhythm Devils and after a few standard issue Dead covers I headed back to see my second favorite female performer at the festival, the lovely, talented and extremely insane, Fiona Apple. Apple came out on fire while launching into the rocking "Get Him Back" and pouring every ounce of emotion she had into the microphone. After the painfully beautiful "Shadowboxer", Fiona announced that "You guys are my last audience, ever". Was she serious? Is this really it? I guess we’ll find out soon. At the end of her set she announced the band and again said "I love these guys so much, its hard to imagine never playing with them again." And to further my conspiracy theory, they let her play 2 encores, something no other band (except the stage headliners, which she was not) got to do the whole festival. If this is true, I’m so glad I caught her at Vegoose, because she absolutely blew my cape off.

From Fiona I sprinted to the "Clubs Tent" to see my favorite woman on this planet (of the ones I’ve never met, of course) Las Vegas’ own, Jenny Lewis. The Rilo Kiley front woman ran through an amazing revival-esque set complete with clap-alongs, costume changes and stomping renditions of new tunes and cuts from Rabbit Fur Coat alike. Along with Jenny, the Watson Twins shined with their concert hall quality vocal harmonies producing a sound much bigger than I thought Lewis’ band was capable of. However, in the middle of the set I was at a crossroads. While Miss Lewis was captivating the small tent audience, two jam band legends were combining efforts to make every Phish and Dead fan’s wet dream a reality. So as the last notes of Jenny’s closer "I was Born Secular" rang, I again strapped on my PF Flyers (yeah that’s a Sandlot reference, I’m not afraid) and booked it to the "Double Down" stage for Phil Lesh and Trey Anastasio.

I missed the first part of Phil and Trey’s set and walked in during the terrible Trey crap song, "Sleep Again". I guess I didn’t have to leave Jenny’s set so quickly after all. However, after a sloppy but energetic cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" (which in classic rock star Trey fashion, he stole the chorus’ tasty organ lick from the guy actually playing an organ, John Medeski) the band launched into the only Phish song of the set, "Back on the Train". Mike Gordon guested playing both banjo and Trey’s guitar for a little while. Yes, this would be the song I danced hardest to all weekend. Please Trey, stop playing your self indulgent jam pop and bring the boys back! Phil and Trey closed with the classic Dead sandwich of "Help > Slipknot > Franklin’s" and go at the Buddy Holly classic "Not fade Away" which took a while for me to accept Trey’s style of playing dead tunes. All I wanted was Jerry to come to life and teach Trey how to play his shit right.

After a brief check in with Jim James (the MMJ frontman played a set of solo acoustic tunes while very good, was way to slow for a festival atmosphere) my night ended with my first experience with hip-hoppers, The Roots. (Well I also saw some of Widespread Panic, but I'm mad at Vegoose about them. Although the addition of Jimmy Herring on guitar makes them sound a lot better. They headlined over Phil and Trey. Does that mean the good people at Vegoose think that WSP is better than the Dead and Phish combined!?! blasphemy!) If you haven’t seen the Roots, go! Now! They are the tightest hip-hop band I’ve ever seen, yes they are a band, not a turntable in sight. I didn’t recognize any tunes except for the hit, "You Got Me" which featured a stellar guitar solo but lacked a female vocalist for the hook. Then they closed with the best medley of covers I have ever heard. I kid you not, the Roots played tight, one minute versions of hits by Sly Stone, Michael Jackson, Talib Kweli, Snoop, Wu-Tang, Salt-n-Pepa, Kanye West, Tribe and even a stab at Blue Oyster Cult’s "Don’t Fear the Reaper" complete with the SNL "Cowbell" gag. Brilliant!

Alright, time to wrap it up. What can I say, if you are any self respecting music fan get out to a festival near you sometime. In two days I saw old favorites, new discoveries and was blown away by artists I love but never got to see, until now. From Jazz to Hip-hop to indie rock to Jambands to a full burlesque cabaret troupe, Vegoose had it all! Here are some bests of the festy (in my humble opinion, of course).
Best set: Built to Spill
Best cover: Ben Folds doing Dr. Dre’s "Bitches Ain’t Shit".
Best new discovery: The Yard Dogs Road Show
Best guest appearance: Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab sitting in with Galactic
Best opener: Phil and Trey raging "Ghost" to start their late night show.
Best closer: The Roots’ monster medley
Best encore: Fiona Apple’s "Crimial" and a solo version of "Parting Gift" that could be the last we hear from her.
Best costume: Keim Time’s Donkey!

Set Lists:
Band of Horses : Part One, Wicked Gill, The Funeral, new tune, The Great Salt Lake, Weed Party, Monsters, The Showdown?*
* The Eels cover

Built to Spill : Jam, Traces, Liar, Made-up Chairs, You Were Right, Nowhere Nothing Fuckup, Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss, Carry the Zero, Randy Described Eternity

Fiona Apple: Get Him Back, To Your Love, Shadowboxer, The Way Things Are, Paper Bag, Sleep to Dream, Limp, Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song), Extraordinary Machine, On the Bound, Not About Love, Get Gone, Fast as You Can
E: Criminal, Parting Gift*
* Fiona at the piano, solo

Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins: Run Devil Run, The Big Guns, You Are What You Love, Under the Charging Sky, Happy, band intros > See Fernando, Rise Up with Fists, new tune, Bye Bye Baby*, When Jack Killed Mom, I Was Born Secular
* Jenny and the Twins a cappella

Phil and Trey: Shakedown Street > Sweet Dreams Melinda > Row Jimmy, Let it Ride > Sleep Again, Like a Rolling Stone > Back on the Train* > Bird Song > Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklins Tower, Not Fade Away
* w/ Mike Gordon on banjo and guitar