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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Jan 16, 2007

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks @ Harlow's, Sacramento, CA

I am in love...again. Her name is Joanna and she plays bass for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, (See the shoeless beauty in the background of the picture above). She is from Placerville, CA which is located smack dab in the drab of California’s "Central Valley". Last night in the heart of said valley, Sacramento, she and her band mates returned home to a packed house at the city’s top rock club, Harlow’s. Ringleader Stephen Malkmus, formerly of Pavement (perhaps the most aptly named band ever considering the strip-mall, gas station and concrete laden town in which the band was formed, Stockton CA) lead his backing group, The Jicks, through a monstrous set fueled with a plethora of new material mixed with a uniform blend of past (solo career, no Pavement songs as usual) favorites.

I arrived halfway through the opener’s set with out knowing just how perfect this show would be. Harlow’s was packed, but not shoulder to shoulder, so maneuvering during the show was a breeze yet it still held the vibe of a sold-out show. In between bands I was even able to get a vodka tonic, pee, run in to my buddy (and fellow Ocean Stater T.K.) and find my way to the absolute dead front and center of the venue. Perfect. Armed with a fresh drink, a one-y pack and an empty bladder I waited for the king of indie-rock (well at least second in line to the throne behind Lou Reed, in my book) to take the stage.

The curtain flew open as the first fluttery notes of “Water and a Seat” echoed through the club’s PA system. Malkmus, sporting a snazzy 70's porno ‘stache for the tour, finger picked with ease between rhythm and lead guitar lines. For the amount of singing he does, its amazing how rarely you’ll find Malkmus plainly strumming barre chords along with his vocal deliveries. That would be far too easy. The second tune, “Pencil Rot” displayed just how rhythmic and quirky Malkmus’ music often is. This tour marks the debut of the newest Jick, Vacaville’s own Janet Weiss (of the now defunct indie-pop girl group, Sleater-Kinney), and I wanted to see how well she could drum to Malkmus’ atypical music. She passed with flying colors mastering every hit and time change proving she is possibly the best female rock drummer in existence, at least in my existence.

Then the band started to treat the crowd with the first of 7 brand new songs, presumably from the new album he is about to drop (soon I hope). I like to see music I’m familiar with when I go to a show, but this new batch of tunes is so strong that as the listener, I didn’t mind whatsoever. The new songs often provided tasty grooves for the band to improvise over and improvise they did. The Jicks jam more than any indie-rock ever, even Built to Spill. Given my history of cutting my concert-going teeth with jam bands, this was a welcoming virtue for me. It was great to see a tight 4 minute song like “It Kills” expand into a 10+ minute throw down. Yes, “It Kills” killed it.

During the band’s encore Malkmus bantered about how much Sacramento has changed since he left town almost a decade ago, presumably in his best sarcastic rouse, and introduced all the band members and which suburb they were all from (Keyboardist/Guitarist Mike Clark even attended Sacramento State University). After a brief but fitting “Stairway to Heaven” tease the Jicks launched into the barn burning “Baby C’mon” which even got the indie kids dancing, so you know it rocked. Why this guy is not selling out 3,000 seat theaters is beyond me, but its nice to catch a hot club show every once in a while.

The opening band, Entrance, played a mediocre set while trying to be indie’s answer to the Jimi Hendrix Experience way too much. The lead singer/guitarist spent too much time distilling feedback from his amps than actually playing his instrument. The rhythm section however proved to be very tight, and possibly rocks out in 3 harder than any band I’ve ever seen.

Set: Water and a Seat, Pencil Rot, Real Emo Trash*, Animal Midnight, Dragonfly Pie*, Merry Go Round*, Pennywhistle Thunder*, Walk into a Mirror*, Baltimore Again*, Mama, It Kills, Hopscotch Willie*, Jo Jo’s Jacket

E: The Hook, “banter/band intros”, Baby C’Mon
* denotes new tune. I got the titles from a guy who got the band’s actual set list after the show.

Jan 8, 2007

The Slip on 12/29 at Lupos in Providence, RI

The Slip used to be one of those bands where fans wouldn’t even want to listen to studio recordings. Why would I want to listen to Does when I have a dozen soundboard recordings or accurately placed stage AUDs? I mean there is no way to capture the live aura of this band in the studio (even though they do make great records, the shows are incomparable). Well after the release of Eisenhower, I’m afraid times have changed. The band’s new studio album is filled with such a glorious amount of ear candy that Veruca Salt would surely overdose. Unfortunately the band still plays venues that provide a crappy live sound and facilitate often unlistenable fan recordings. Which is why I throw Eisenhower in my CD player these days, not their latest stop at San Francisco’s Independent.

Last Friday night, the Providence providers kicked off their 3 night New Years run at one of their favorite hometown haunts, Lupo’s. I have seen virtually every show the band has ever played at Lupo’s, old and new (the venue moved locations about 3 years ago). The Slip’s hometown holiday shows are a time for many fans to re-connect with old friends, catch up on what their favorite band is up to and just plain rock out. I arrived halfway into the third song, “Airplane/Primitive” (due to an engagement party I was at, congrats again Tim and Kate). Fresh off a 3 week long stint as My Morning Jacket’s opener, where they were only allowed a 30 minute slot, I figured the band would rely heavily on older tunes and embrace their headlining set. I was wrong.

The great thing about the Slip is that they have been together for over 10 years and have an outrageous amount of songs in their catalog, but annoyingly they seem to play only the new material, even for the fans that know them best. “New” songs (that have been beaten to death) like “Even Rats”, “Children of December”, “The Soft Machine” and “I Hate Love” continue to litter the band’s set every single night. I know I know, what’s wrong with playing the new stuff? Nothing I guess. It’s just I know what this band could pull out of their back pocket. Yes, if you go to see other indie rock bands like Broken Social Scene or Stephen Malkmus, you’re going to see all the songs on whatever album they are promoting. That’s how it works in the rock world. This is why the Slip are so good, they don’t have to rely on an era of their career, it is all great.

After “Airplane” came the new “There’s A Lie”, which is a nice tune but resembles Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” melody a little too much. The band then proceeded to play a fairly predictable set of the new songs. The only instrumental songs came with segued “Moderate Threat > Cowboy Up”. I love the former, but the latter is becoming a boring wank on a minor third riff that every other band in the world has incorporated into at least one of their songs. I miss the old instrumentals.

The highlight of the show for me came during a reworked version of “The Weight of Solomon” which is on their first album released in 1997 Finally, a nod to the older heads. The show closing and seldom played (why?) “Sometimes True To Nothing” was another treat. After a not-so-rockin cover of the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” the band launched into a predictable and boring version of “Children of December” complete with 16 year old fans shouting “I know this song, it’s on their myspace page ”(well, probably). Then the hometown crowd was yelling so loud the band came out for a second encore (the houselights were even turned on) which is a rare occurrence in the Slip world. We knew we were going to get something special. Nope, just another “If One of Us Should Fall” for the umpteenth time. I know the boys are just trying to be consistent and sell the new album in hopes of getting some commercial success, but I’m afraid they starting to alienate even the oldest of fans. Brad, Marc and Androo, I love your band and ALL your songs. Please play them once in a while, you weren’t formed yesterday.

Setlist: All I Saw Was You*, Even Rats, Airplane/Primitive, There's A Lie, The Soft Machine, Little Song, I Hate Love**, Paper Birds, Moderate Threat > Cowboy Up, The Weight of Solomon***, Let There be Horses, Sometimes True to Nothing

E: Baba O’Reilly, Children of December

E2: If One of Us Should Fall

* new arrangement ** w/ “Birdland” (Weather Report) teases. *** new arrangement with Brad on guitar

Album Review: The Shin's "Wincing the Night Away"

Congratulations are in order for this new album from Zach Braff heroes, the Shins. The band, which could easily churn out simple strummy indie pop forever, shows signs of true growth with the release of their third album, Wincing the Night Away. The Shins previous albums ranged from abrasive almost annoying rockers to sweet, wonderful acoustic love songs. The new album takes both of those sounds and meshes them together perfectly to create a “new” Shins for the 21st century.
The record starts with a soft lilting arpeggio and James Mercer’s atypical voice welcoming you to ponder something besides cheesy love and obscure similes before launching into a driving rock beat not unlike many early Strokes songs. “Sleeping Lessons” proves the Shins are still figuring out their sound, but they know where they want to go. The album’s single “Phantom Limb” is probably the song closely related to the bands two previous albums. I don’t really care for the song until the “oh oh ohs” at the end which build nicely.
My favorite track is “Sea Legs” which finds the band experimenting with break beats and syncopated strumming. This song kind of sums it up, the band isn’t just creating a nice back drop to Mercer’s simple acoustic ditties. The four members are consciously creating a sound for themselves. Less strumming, more harmonies, and much more thought out bass lines and arrangements. The Shins are also incorporating more synth sounds into their music which creates beautiful textures similar to Nigel Godrich’s influence on Beck albums.
Wincing... loses a little steam towards the end before it is saved by “A Comet Appears”, a nice slow tune that could have easily been on Chutes to Narrow. The only difference, James is writing about broader sentiments and less first person mush. Lyrics like “Let’s carve my aging face off, fetch us a knife, start with my eyes. Down so the lines form grimacing smile” and “I click my heels, get the devils in line. A list of things I could lay the blame on that give me a way out. A tool we devise to make sinking stones fly” show this man is dealing with changes in his life. After seeing the Shins at Vegoose in 2005 I figured the fad would pass and we wouldn’t hear much from them. Hopefully, this album proves me wrong. We’ll let the kids decide.

Key Tracks: "Sleeping Lessons", "Sea Legs" and "A Comet Appears"

rating: triple