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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Oct 29, 2007

Have a Beer with Brad Barr: Solo show at Matt Murphy's Pub

Sometimes the best things in life are free. Recently in Brookline, MA, I was lucky enough to have one of those nights. Brad Barr (of the SLIP) played a free solo show for mostly friends and bar patrons at one of his favorite watering holes, Matt Murphy’s Pub. I assume he likes it, both the Slip and Surprise Me Mr. Davis have played unannounced warmup gigs there before.

The night started late (as usual) with Brad hitting the “stage” at almost midnight. At that point the bar was packed and the chatty crowd combined with Brad sitting in a chair (thus being hidden from all except those in the first row or two) created the atmosphere of just hanging out with friends and catching audio pieces of some guy in the corner playing some guitar. Except that guy is fucking Brad Barr!

After the first set the crowd thinned a little and my friends left so I was able to get up close and not converse with anyone, perfect show conditions. There was Brad , surrounded by a ring of glow lights playing music for his friends, as if we were in someone’s livingroom. He reeled through Slip songs and solo instrumental pieces alike, breaking out the whole arsenal from the eardrum piercing distortion on “Broke the Promised Land” to the beautiful lullaby “Suffocation Keep”. His only cover of the night (if you don’t count the slew of Nathan Moore songs) came with a half time, effects laiden, gentle waves of guitar loops in the reverb sea take on Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” which absolutely took my breathe away. Its been said many times that the Slip’s success is (unfortunately) hinged upon the lack of strong singer. I won’t argue with the fact that Brad may not be the best singer, but man, he has a great natural voice.

1: Beggar in the Morning,?, Before You Were Born, Deacon's Son, Sarah Through the Wall, Yea Yeahy, Ooh Belle, ?

2: Nowhere From Here to Go, Broke the Promised Land, Toy keyboard intro* > Let There Be Horses, Instrumental?, Suffocation Keep, Boots of Spanish Leather**, The Woods

* Brad had a toy keyboard with a drumbeat that he looped, it did not continue into "horses.." ** Bob Dylan cover.

Sean Hayes and Jenny Owen Youngs: Folk the Paradise

The Paradise Lounge is a small café style venue adjacent to the famous Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Last Friday I went to an evening performance by acoustic-pop starlet Jenny Owen Youngs with a supporting set by grizzled indie-folk veteran, Sean Hayes. Yeah, that’s right HE was the supporting act.

Youngs seems to be having the ride of her life, traveling around playing her brand of pessimistic but pretty pop with friends since college (her band formed while they were sociology majors at NYU). She seems like one of the boys, not afraid to rag on her single drummer or put down the audience for not liking Harry Potter (which was actually quite annoying, she wouldn’t drop it the whole show) and yelling “Fuck You ” to another audience member who requested “Hot in Herre” (Yes she does a folk version of the Nelly song, almost as lame as the Gourds “Gin and Juice”) while she was discreetly introducing that very song, but sings like one of the girls (hows that for a run-on, Fuck You ). Her piercing voice and bouncy acoustic feel mask the pain and self-loathing often found in her lyrics. Songs like “Drinking Song” and “Fuck Was I?” relay the sentiment that she is often not taken as seriously as she’d like and is typically type-cast in her real life. Jenny definitely came out of the gate hot, but she has a lot more writing to do if she wants her career to last. She barely had enough material to make it through an hour long set and didn’t even do an encore.

Sean Hayes and his trio opened the show hitting the stage at 5:59, I told you it was an evening show. I got turned on to Hayes when a friend of mine gave me a mix cd of his songs over a year ago. I immediately took to this guy and his unique voice and lyrical genius. He can give you the simple lyrics as well as rich, cryptic descriptions of all of life’s facets. Hayes is a veteran of the folk circuit, with over 5 albums to his credit, and it’s refreshing to see he is just happy to be playing his music to anyone who will listen. Hayes’ set was culled mostly from his last 2 albums but he through in a couple older tunes such as “Mary Magdalene” which he claimed to be the first song he ever wrote (that was worth recording) and the audience requested “Smoking Signals” which he taught to his band as they played it. The best quip of the night was when Hayes said he was relieved that a World Series game was not being played that night because he was afraid no one would be at the gig. He told the crowd “Last time I was here (in Boston), the Patriots were in the Super Bowl and only 5 people showed up to the gig!”. Maybe he should come back sometime in early February, he seems to bring his good luck wherever he goes...

Sean Hayes’ set: Time, Politics, Mary Magdalene, Rattlesnake Charm (Dream Machine), Onion, 3am, Feel Good, Fucked Me Right Up, All For Love, Smoking Signals, Guantanamo, Big Black Hole and the Little Baby Star

Jenny Owen Youngs’ set: Coyote, Drinking Song, Tell them Whatever You Want*, Voice on Tape, Porchrail, Woodcut, From Here, Fuck Was I, PS, If I Didn’t Know*, Secrets up to Here*, Hot in Herre**
* not sure of title so I guessed. ** w/ "Wonderwall" (Oasis) teases

Oct 19, 2007

Smashing Pumpkins provide nostalgia but little relevance

The last time I was at the Providence Performing Arts Center (aka PPAC) I was about 12 years old watching “Grease” with my grandmother. Needless to say, last night was a little different. Smashing Pumpkins whirled into Providence last night, another stop on their reunion tour in support of the new album Zeitgeist. I haven’t gotten Zeitgeist yet, nor do I own their previous 3 albums. Lets just say I went to see some of my favorite mid-nineties rock and roll songs, early era Pumpkins.

Although the set list drew mostly from the new album and previous industrial ones (like Machina 1+2 and Adore) they did throw some classics down. First off was the seldom heard “Starla”, a wonderful tune hidden in the second half of Pisces Iscariot. The next big tune for me was the orchestral opus “Tonight Tonight” which didn’t disappoint. I was extremely impressed with the lights at the show. The Pumpkins had huge triangular lighting rigs and a lighting designer who surely knew the band very well. Lots of synchronizing with the music, not just random light scenes which is so often the case these days.

The one draw back would have to be the volume. I hate to be an old fart but if I didn’t know the song, there was no way to decipher any lyrics. Billy’s voice was drowned (Oh I wish they played “Drown”!) out by the mass fuzz of the guitars and drums. The only part where the beautiful historic theatre’s acoustics were put on display was during the solo acoustic portion of the show. Billy playing a solo “1979" made me wish the whole show was solo acoustic. It sounded “Like buttah” (to quote Linda Richman). After a terrible closing song complete with crappy sing along “I love Rock and Roll” teases ( I mean come on guys, I think even Britney covered that song) the Pumpkins reemerged to encore with the epic rocker, “Cherub Rock”, which sent me back to my eighth grade bed room listening to Siamese Dream. Which, admittedly was the reason I was there in the first place.

The opener was the trendy, overrated, shoegazing, effects-dependent Explosions in the Sky. These 4 guys from Texas (big whoop) spend more time crouching on their knees toying with their effects pedals than actually playing their instruments. Their sound is cool for about 2 minutes until you realize everything they do sounds the exact same. Lamo.....

Set List: Starla, United States > Star Spangled Banner* > United States, Bleeding the Orchid, Neverlost, Stand Inside Your Love, Tonight Tonight, Tarantula, Ava Adore, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Home, Bring the Lights, 1979**, Perfect**, God and Country**, Set the Ray to Jerry, Today, Thats the Way My Love Is, Superchrist, Doomsday Clock, Heavy Metal Machine > I love Rock and Roll***

E: Cherub Rock

* Just Billy and Jimmy. ** solo acoustic. “Perfect” had Jimmy on Tambourine. *** Joan Jett cover, one verse only

Oct 4, 2007

Apollo Sunshine and Dr. Dog at the Paradise

Watch out world, here comes Apollo Sunshine. Last night, the band kicked off their co-headlining month long tour with Philly Phab Phive - Dr. Dog. The Boston show is the only one that Apollo took the stage second and I’m glad that I got to see it. Back as a 4 piece (and sometimes 5) Apollo is now capable of replicating the huge sound they create in a studio. The band has been holed up in a studio in upstate New York all summer, possibly making their finest album to date (judging by the plethora of new tunes they dropped on us), and they are ready to let the world hear it. There have been no leaks of the new material. Their myspace page has been littered with fuzzy drum jams and hilarious 2 minute covers (such as “(Always Look on the) Brightside”) so this was the first time I was able to hear what they have been up to.

Apollo took the stage and launched in to one of the said new tunes before delving into their repetoire with “Lord”, which evolved into a drum jam with all 4 members playing some sort of percussive instrument. The problem I have today with many indie-rock bands is they never jam stuff out. Apollo have great songs and they could easily just stick with the material but they love to experiment and just go off. They are master musicians (all attended Berklee School of Music) and are capable of playing anything you put in front of them such as basses, guitars, keyboards, drums and any effects boxes you wanna throw at them. They are slaves to sound. Frontman Jesse Gallagher even set up a mic on drummer Jeremy Black’s snare drum and was able to run it through a delay box to create a distorted echo effect (a la many old reggae dub albums) with the hit of a button. Both him and guitarist Sam Cohen had multiple keyboards and effects rigs at their disposal and new guitar player (Quentin?) had a mini drum set up next to him.

Although the band played 65% new material, they did treat the crowd to a couple classics from their sophmore release but unfortunately nothing off Katonah(savages in this town). The big two, “Flip!” and “Today is the Day” (which I hear may be on a Jeep commercial soon), tore the roof off the place with the whole crowd singing along. The always expansive “Phyllis” closed the show but seemed more tame than versions I’ve heard before (Of course last time I heard this song live the band had all eaten some sort of fungi).

Philadelphia’s 70's throwback neo-folk rockers, Dr. Dog opened the show (they are headlining the rest of the tour though) with a 64 minute set touching on their entire catalogue (3 albums and a bunch of unreleased stuff that's streaming from These guys aren’t doing anything the Beatles or the Band hasn’t done before but atleast they mimic the best. Their 3 part harmonies came through a little fuzzy in the club’s distorted sound system but were there none the less. I also dig the use of cool diminished chords but their overall harmonic progressions are nothing special. The two singers have such unique vocal styles and shapes that it was nice to put the voice with the face. My favorite song of theirs “The World May Never Know” was alternately arranged into more of a fast shuffle, which I didn’t care for too much. Other than that all the songs sounded excactly like the album version. The Dog don’t quite have the chops or artistic drive that I like in Apollo so much but they do write some damn good drinkin’ songs.

Dr. Dog's set: Ain’t it Strange, The Pretender, The World May Never Know, From, The Girl, Could Use a Hand^, My Old Ways, Hole in Roof^, Keep a Friend, Easy Beat, Worst Trip, Today, Fool’s Life, Call your Bluff^, Die Die Die, The Way the Lazy Do

^ not sure of title so I guessed.

Apollo Sunshine's set: Leavin (Ain’t as Hard as it Used to Be)^, Lord > drums* > Lord, Blue^, Magnolia, Evil^, Piano fugue instrumental^, Who’s That that Walks Around^, Today is the Day, African Cover**, Long to Touch You^, Flip!, Oblivious^

E: Poppa Woody***, Phyllis***
^ new song, not sure of title. * w/ all 4 members on drums. ** Cover song, taken from a compilation found on David Byrne’s world music label. ** w/ tenor sax guest. A guest percussionist also sat in most of the show.

Oct 3, 2007

2007: A Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Ever since the break up of Phish I have concentrated wholly on lyrical based music in terms of writing and listening too. I was sick of all the jam bands because although they created the desired tension and release with their music, lets face it, they write songs about stupid shit. Goodbye to Phish, moe, Galactic - Hello to Bright Eyes, Modest Mouse and Rilo Kiley. But lately I’ve been sick of how boring the latter's concerts are. No surprises, no crazy covers, terrible light shows and virtually the same set list every night. And NO ONE even dances anymore, argh!

Last Saturday night I took a step backward and went to an all instrumental show with neo-space jazz cats, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. The Fred played at a local artist's commune called the Narrows complete with church pews for seats and a wonderful BYOB policy. Truly a great environment for organic music. JFJO hails from Oklahoma (which must have something in its water considering the Flaming Lips are from OKC) but I have only seen them at HSMF in Cali. Recently they added a new drummer who is rediculous. Alongside monsters such as bassist Reed Mathis and pianist Brian Hass, the Fred might just be the best young original instrumental act out there and it showed that night. I don’t know any of their songs but I did notice a vocalless devouring of the Beatles “Happiness is a Warm Gun” that would send Brad Mehldau into a cheer. The small crowd was absolutely floored. The whole show there was no talking (you could hear a pin drop except the music was playing ), no flash cameras, and plenty of dancing in the back row. A truly unique vibe considering the state of concert goers and their damn cell phones these days.

Opening the show was The Life Effect, a jazz super goup (so to speak), which consists of pure improvisation between Brad and Andrew Barr (The SLIP who by the way survived my musical shift by shifting their music to more progressive indie rock, but that's another story), JFJO’s Reed Mathis and Saxophonist Jim Hobbes of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra. Unfortunately I arrived late due to another wedding (Congrats Dean and Lizzie ) so I only saw one “song” of theirs. I walked in as Brad and Andrew were both playing drums while Jim was going off. Then Brad hopped on his guitar and free styled some lyrics over a bluesy vamp with Andrew beating on an old oil drum. It was short, but it was nice to see the Barr’s get back to their improv roots.

Rilo Kiley shimmers, but doesn't really shine

Rilo Kiley is perhaps my favorite indie-pop band going these days (although they probably won’t be around too much longer with Jenny Lewis’ stock as a solo act rapidly rising) so naturally I was super excited to see them live for the first time at a classic venue I had never been to. Due to the Avalon’s stupid curfew (its 10pm, then the venue becomes a dance club - lame-o ) I missed both opening acts and arrived just in time to wait for 30 min for Rilo’s set.

The Avalon is a well renowned venue in Boston, that is closing down for renovations in a couple weeks, located directly behind Fenway Park’s notorious “Green Monster”. That however is the club’s only plus. The Avalon was way oversold and I couldn’t even maneuver onto the floor. The main room looks like a Quonset hut, complete with a rounded roof. It sounds like one too. The acoustics in there are terrible but maybe I was just too far back.

Rilo hit the stage and launched into a nice but note for note version of “It’s a Hit” before running through a pleasing at times but mostly predictable, lackluster set. The problem with bands like Rilo Kiley, who create studio masterpieces (in my opinion), is they can’t quite pull it off onstage. Even with the help of members from the opening band, on horns and keyboards, the songs just didn’t have that umph (yeah umph) that the studio sheen provides. All the fifteen year olds cheered like crazy between songs but NO ONE danced. That’s pretty bad considering Rilo has just made a DANCE album. Seriously - check it out.

Highlights for me included the Blake solo number “Ripchord” which he played on a ukelele and the softer numbers like “With Arms Outstretched” and “A Man/Me/Then Jim”. They also threw down a funked out ska-ish reworking of Jenny’s solo song “Rise Up with Fists”. Drummer Jason Boesel was kept at bay most of the night supplying boring “boom chick ba-boom chick” beats throughout. How about a little syncopation buddy? Only on the shows closer did he really let loose like he does so much on the albums. I’m definitely glad I got to see Rilo Kiley though, way more than I led on in this review, buts its only because I like their albums SO MUCH and wanted to see how they worked as a band - and I say Jenny has her red shoes on, she’s ready to go...

Set list: It’s a Hit, Close Call, Portions for Foxes, Paint Peeling, Breakin Up, Dreamworld, Moneymaker, Waves and Wires, Ripchord, With Arms Outstretched, A Man/Me/Then Jim, Under the Blacklight tease > Silver Lining, I Never, Smoke Detector, 15, Rise Up with Fists!!!*, Greetings in Braille**, Spectacular Views

E: Does He Love You?

* Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins cover. ** The Elected cover.

B. Barr and Percy Boyd do Brooklyn

If there ever was a band that puts the intimacy of the venue they play over the flashyness of a big room with lights, it is Surprise Me Mr. Davis. I have seen them everywhere between historic folk venues (Mill Valley’s “The Sweetwater”) to small pup tents in camp sites (High Sierra’s “Camp Harry”). Last week after they played Brooklyn’s tiny Union Hall (which they sold out in 2 seconds) bandleaders Nathan Moore and Brad Barr booked an even more intimate, free gig the following Monday at Brooklyn’s Pete’s Candy Store.

I was unable to attend the Union Hall show (Congrats again Pete and La ) but I was able to motivate some friends to check out one of the best folk singers in the business on a cool Monday night in Williamsburg. Honestly, for me I could compare this night to Eric Clapton opening for Neil Young. Brad and Nathan are by far the biggest musical infuences I have ever had. Nathan has literally hundreds of songs about every subject mostly in a tradition folk vein, musically and poetically speaking. Brad (guitarist for the SLIP as well) is a genre defying guitar virtuoso whose intricate melodies and open tuning masterpieces out weigh his strained, delicate voice.

Pete’s Candy Store is a venue literally the size of a railway train car. It’s long and narrow and and only holds around 30 people, even with a majority sitting on the floor. Brad and Nathan seem to like it this way, the “living room” atmosphere as I call it. Brad started the show with a 45 min set mostly littered with slower Slip songs like “Ooh Belle” and the Grey’s Anatomy star “Life in Disguise” before turning the stage over to Nathan. Mr. Moore showcased mostly new songs (for Nathan that means songs he’s written that week) before inviting Brad to finish the set with him on slide guitar and backing vocals. As the two blasted through the closer (which I requested) “You Don’t Have to Say Your Sorry (Til You Go)” (an videotaped, below) I sat there as happy as a kid in a candy store, oh wait, I was.

Brad's set: intro* > Predicting the Rain, Instrumental Rag^, Beggar in the Morning^, Before You Were Born, Ooh Belle, Fools Gold**, Life in Disguise, Let There Be Horses

* w/ lyrics like "If I was Lost" which i think was just improv over the arabic-sounding PTR riff. ** w/ Brad's friend Lasa (sp?) on lead vocals. ^ not sure of title so I guessed

Nathan's Set: Don't Go*, Wasted as Ted, Good Time Gambler^, Gotta Make It, Sometimes There's Wine, Sissy Fuss, Hollow, Nowehere From Here to Go, Rules, Richest Man Alive, Lost Man in a Foreign Country, Don't Have to Say You're Sorry (Til You Go)

* w/ drum beat and loops. ^ not sure of title, so I guessed. Brad sat in with Nathan from "Gotta Make It" on.