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The Hold Steady, Art Brut and the 1990s – 11.20.07, The 9:30 Club, Washington DC and 11.21.07, Terminal Five, NYC

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The Hold Steady, Art Brut and the 1990s – 11.20.07, The 9:30 Club, Washington DC and 11.21.07, Terminal Five, NYC

The 1990s have just completed their set and thrown their set list (written on a paper plate) into the crowd of Washington DC’s The 9:30 Club. A group of three girls directly in front of me have caught the plate and are currently giggling over their newly acquired treasure.

I’m given cause to wonder if the girls are even there to see the 1990s but rather to see the better known acts Art Brut and/or The Hold Steady instead. It is certain that for most of the audience the latter is the case.

It is no matter because the 1990s are rock solid. Singer/guitarist Jackie McKeown even manages to recover from having his fly down for the entire first song. Where many of the 1990s songs on their debut album, Cookies, sounded poppy, in their live incarnations, the songs take on a grittier, garage-rock sound. Even weaker songs like “Weed” prove to be compelling when played live. McKeown’s solo style, the centerpiece in the live rendition of “Weed”, is organic and dirty, perfectly suited to the band’s music. Drummer Michael McGaughrin’s strained backing vocals add additional richness to the songs. Frequently running out of breath, McGaughrin jokes with the audience after most every song. At one point McKeown remarks that the band must truly be a mesmerizing live act to a man directly in front of him who is talking on his cell phone. McKeown asks the man who he is talking to, and he replies “Taylor”. McKeown is sure not to forget Taylor, and when the band plays “You’re Supposed To Be My Friend”, he cleverly makes allusion to the cell-phone conversation in the lyrics. The standout song of the night, though, is “Situation”, which the band introduces as their last number. Before starting the song, they modify the statement by adding that the crowd needn’t worry because the song is a long one. Played live, “Situation” evokes an underlying darkness only hinted at on the album.

Continue reading The Hold Steady, Art Brut and the 1990s – 11.20.07, The 9:30 Club, Washington DC and 11.21.07, Terminal Five, NYC

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – The Magic Tour

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band - The Magic Tour

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – The Magic Tour: 10.5.07 & 10.6.07 Philadelphia, PA, Wachovia Center; 10.9.07 & 10.10.07 East Rutherford, NJ, Continental Airlines Arena

Tim has always been good with his money. When I got in a tight spot two years ago on my rent, Tim spotted me. The long and the short is that although I am his older brother, I cannot ever recall lending the man cash.

Ever.

Even as kids, when the legal tender was candy, Tim had a savings plan. Only once, when Tim was age five or so, did he invest unwisely. Somehow I managed to convince him that nickels were worth more than dimes because nickels were larger. It was a devious scheme, and a trade ensued as did Tim’s eventual knowledge that he’d been had. Though I can’t prove it, I’ve always suspected that this event led to Tim’s decision that he’d never let anyone outsmart him again, let alone his brother. And so Tim went to Princeton, while I opted for a life of irresponsibility, quitting jobs working for oil tanker certification companies to take other more career-tracked vocations like selling Sierra Club subscriptions door to door. Three days into the Sierra Club wildnerness I quit yet again, this time to stay gainfully unemployed for months on end. When I went to Tim for money I wondered, was I borrowing because my boss at Sierra Club had ended all his statements with the word “sweet” and had a penchant for kick-starting the morning with DJ Shadow, or was Tim finally collecting interest on the nickels and dimes debacle?

So you cannot imagine the shock I felt when Tim ran out of cash and asked me to buy tickets for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s October 9th show at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ.

Actually. I embellish. I wasn’t shocked in the slightest.

There will only ever be one time in Tim’s life when he runs out of money. These rips in the time-space-continuum will somehow always involve Bruce Springsteen. When I saw the show with Tim on October 9th, Tim had, of course, already seen Bruce on his two previous stops at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center on October 5th and October 6th.

Like any sort of fandom, being a disciple of the Church of Bruce is impossible to explain. To significant others, friends, co-workers and taxmen, you are a freak no matter how you cut it. In fact only one type of person understands. The nut in the bandana beside you who has also seen the Boss every date of the tour so far and at the rehearsal show in Asbury Park.

Of the two shows at the Continental Airlines Arena, the October 10th show was better, perhaps because we had general admission tickets that night. The standout song from the set(s) was Nebraska‘s full band and bullet-mike rave-up of “Reason To Believe.” Par for the course, the show was “magic”. And if the Boss adds more dates after the European leg of the tour, I’ve got good “Reason To Believe” that Tim may be running out of money in the New Year, too.

Click here to see photos from the show.

The Black Lips – 9.19.07, New York, NY, Music Hall of Williamsburg

The Black Lips

The Black Lips – 9.19.07, New York, NY, Music Hall of Williamsburg

For all the legends and myths in circulation about the wild debauchery of The Black Lips’ performances, when the band played New York’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on September 19th, they were far more professional than their reputation would have you think. When, for instance, bassist/singer Jared Swilley’s bass broke, rather than letting the set lose momentum, the band continued to play while Swilley frantically corrected the problem. Once Swilley was back on the horse, he apologized for the technical hiccup. Granted, one might question if puking on stage is “professional”, but when guitarist/singer Cole Alexander vomited, it was ever-so-casual, the way most of us nonchalantly glance at our watches. Alexander’s mannerly barf aside, it was the crowd that was foaming and rabid.

Not only was the house teeming with girls in feathered headdresses and grown men dropping from the rafters (one almost hit Tim), but the show was covered by everyone from small time bloggers to CMJ. This is no doubt credit to the Vice media-conglomerate and hype machine. With VBS TV’s recent broadcast of the band’s misadventures in Israel, The Black Lips have the feel of the company’s house band. But the hype from Vice is warranted. The album Good Bad, Not Evil is not only The Black Lips shining moment thus far, but its Gonzo attitude, totally weird, nastily comic and politically charged nature, make it one of the best albums of the year, hands down.

And as for the live show, while the days of urinating in each other’s mouths may be behind the band in their new-found spotlight, The Black Lips put on one hell of show. As their albums have always hinted, the performance is a different beast than the record. The most mesmerizing part of the show was drummer and wild-arm, Joe Bradley. In a zone of his own, Bradley was a war-path-drum-freak, full of frantic screams, crazed “Ah-ha-ha-ha-has!” that were terrifying as hypnotic. A man possessed, Bradley alone made the concert.

Click here to see photos from the show.

Clockcleaner – 9.13.07, Philadelphia, PA, First Unitarian Church

Clockcleaner

Clockcleaner – 9.13.07, Philadelphia, PA, First Unitarian Church

Though Clockcleaner’s Myspace page features a photograph of Philip K. Dick, if the band were to have a science fiction doppelgänger, it would more likely be Harlan Ellison than Dick. Like Ellison, who is more known for his persona, editorial rants before his stories and general outspoken views, Clockcleaner is likewise known (and celebrated across the web) for their caustic antics and disdaining opinions of the Philadelphia music scene. Clockcleaner legend has garnered the band press everywhere from Vice Magazine (check out the Vice Web-isode on VBS.tv Practice Space) to the Philadelphia Weekly, which most recently declared Clockcleaner “Philly’s most hated band”.

The question is: Is Clockcleaner really chaotic evil? Clockcleaner’s recent gig at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia proved two things, the first being that “No, Clockcleaner is not the anti-Christ”, and the second being that the overall weirdness of a venue can always outdo whatever schtick your band has up its sleeve. Go to Google and type in “First Unitarian Church”. Click the first hit and take a good gander at the church ladies and bingo night. The dimly lit basement where Clockcleaner frontman John Sharkey dry-humped a fan onstage may very well be the same place bingo night is held. But for all of Clockcleaner’s antagonism, the band’s act is just that, an act. From bassist Karen Horner’s opening announcement that she broke her finger “fingering” her boyfriend, fans and band alike seemed in on the joke. Albeit, a lot of the jokes were fairly crude, but they were jokes nonetheless.

In the end it is nice to know that there are bands like Clockcleaner out there who want to do more than just play music by putting on a show and stirring people up in an attempt to shake complacency and mediocrity. Hopefully Clockcleaner will continue to stir the shit and eventually challenge their newly anointed nemesis, the Philly band Man Man, to a rock-off, milk challenge or whatever. That will be a show that no one will want to miss.

Click here to see photos from the show.

Marah – 9.7.07 Philadelphia, PA, Johnny Brenda’s

Marah - Live at Johnny Brenda's 9/7/07

Marah – 9.7.07 Philadelphia, PA, Johnny Brenda’s

Certainly, songs and showmanship are important to any band when it comes to making it. However, more important is timing, luck and who gets behind your music. It’s unfair but a reality, just as it has never seemed fair how a truly incredible band like Marah barely even makes a blip on the radar. With their forthcoming Angels of Destruction, Marah will have released six proper studio albums, a slew of EPs, a DVD, a live album and a Christmas album in there somewhere. Yet outside Philadelphia, they are virtual unknowns. As Bob Hill recently pointed out in Crawdaddy when writing about Marah’s spiritual cousins, The Hold Steady:

There is no Lester Bangs to saddle-up alongside Lou Reed, no Landau to proclaim the future of rock ‘n’ roll, no William Miller to tell you Russell Hammond isn’t really the golden god he claims to be. There is only a watered-down wasteland of Web logs, anointing bands like the Cold War Kids and the Arcade Fire as the second coming. That type of atmosphere is the bane of great retro acts like the Hold Steady, Marah, and Jesse Malin.

While bands like The Hold Steady are perhaps now on their way to success and do suggest that great music can make it, Marah has been left behind, still playing the local circuit. And as usual, their first of two shows at Johnny Brenda’s found the band in top form. Most excitingly, their live set proved what everyone knew too, that without misdirected production values, songs like “Float Away” are forces to be reckoned with.

In the end though Friday Night, September 7, 2007 came and went at Johnny Brenda’s. And whether anyone ever recognizes them or not, that night Marah were gods and floated away with the best of them.

Click here to see photos from the show.


Quote taken from Bob Hill’s article “The Wild, The Innocent, and The Craig Finn Shuffle”, Crawdaddy, March 16, 2007.

The Hold Steady – 8.9.07 Brooklyn, NY, Prospect Park

Hold Steady

The Hold Steady – 8.9.07 Brooklyn, NY, Prospect Park

In a recent interview Iggy Pop talked about the difference between playing music in 1965, as opposed to 2007.

“In 1965, when great young white artists in the English-speaking world were successfully re-channeling hillbilly and black music– you know Bob Dylan, Ray Davies, Pete Townsend, Keith Richards– they didn’t get any money at first. They were all broke. All those giant people had to stay around quite a while to cash in because the industry ripped them off more efficiently. The information wasn’t as widely available as it is now. Now, like I’m sure the Killers have a great record deal, and a lawyer to track their publishing and a guy to renegotiate their European cash flow streams and all that. It’s just different. I don’t know why.” – Iggy Pop

Certainly, the statement must hold true for some bands. However, contrary to Iggy’s statement, in the era of internet boom, surely just as many artists (if not more) are getting ripped off by charlatans, bandits and thieves in that ephemeral dream of making it, cashing in and getting paid to do what you love. And of the bands who are out there, you get the feeling that The Hold Steady have paid their dues.

When singer Craig Finn thanked the audience for the opportunity to play for them at the free show in Prospect Park, NY, on August 9, 2007, one was left with the profound sense that the man was truly humble. And what a show. Not only was the band incredibly tight, but there was that wild-alive electricity between the band and the audience you get 1 in every 10 shows. So if, like me, you came 3 years late to The Hold Steady, my advice is go out, buy all their albums now and catch them live.

Click here to see photos from the show.


Iggy Pop quote taken from Pitchforkmedia interview by Bret Gladstone. Click here to read the full article.