It’s funny how we learn about new music today in the digital world. I haven’t quite turned in my music journalism card yet, so I receive many pitches for new and established artists. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a music publicist–so I won’t pimp my own artists in this spot. So besides those press releases, I hear about new artists through my clients, through other taste makers like Val’s List and Bob Lefsetz and Kings of A&R. I hear about great music from trusted friends. I hear stuff from colleagues repping cool new acts. I hear songs on TV shows or in movies, or on the radio through bumper music (but almost never from the actual radio anymore). And occasionally from online radio stations. That’s it. It’s amazing how music will find its way into our ears and onto our hard drives now. And speaking of that, I had better purge my iTunes a bit before my PC explodes. Meanwhile, here are some things I’m listening to that you should check out if you feel so inclined.
“Skeleton” by The Good Natured–If you’re a fan of synth-driven ’80′s pop, this title track to the British group’s 2011 EP will take you back to those days a bit, while sounding like it could work on today’s Top 40 radio–whatever that may be. I found this group through a pitch from their publicist, who is pimping their new single, “Video Voyeur.” Now, that video will surely take you back to the early MTV days.
“Celebrate Tonight” by Allen Stone–One of my clients opened for this kid, who really came out of nowhere. He’s a scrawny Seattle-bred white kid with an old school R&B soul. Kind of like Daryl Hall, who took Stone in for a “Live from Daryl’s House” session that literally gives me goosebumps when I see and hear it. The best part is seeing the unbridled joy on Stone’s face as Daryl plays along and sings with him.
“Show and Tell” by Sugar & The Hi-Lows–Nashville singer/songwriters Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup collaborate here for some pure magic–beautiful melody, arrangement, and a soaring yet lo-fi harmony drenched chorus. It also has a mild ’70′s vibe ala Josh Rouse’s 1972 album (sorry, I have a penchant for music from past decades!).
“Almost Blue” by Joseph Arthur–This guy’s music follows me around, and it’s sheer brilliance. And this past week he released a new double album on his website, available for free download (though there is no way I’m not hitting the “donate” button–I want Joseph Arthur to make music until he’s 80).
“Sweetheart Like You” by World Party–Their new Arkeology set (releasing next Tuesday April 10) is 70 tracks deep and features old songs, new songs, covers, live recordings and more. The World Party fan in your life just has to have this. This song is a Bob Dylan cover that singer Karl Wallinger spins his own way, and it winds up sounding like it jumped off of The New Radicals’ only (and genius) album from 1998.
“Drumming Song” by Florence + The Machine–There is something purely intoxicating about Florence + the Machine, and this song embodies that desire to get drunk with her voice and music, as well as the booming percussion. That said, you just have to check out this acoustic video from KEXP–there is no auto-tune, no slick production–mostly Florence’s positively sick vocals out front.
“Please Stay Strong” by Stolen Silver–I guess it’s okay for me to talk about a band put together with members from a former client band of mine? Well, I just did. These guys have an incredible acoustically driven, harmony-rich sound with some killer songs.
“Forget the Diamonds” by Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer–Just like Sugar & The Hi-Lows above, this duo makes magic together. It’s Americana, yet really it’s just haunting and melodic music that you will find really hard to stop listening to.
“Wine Dark Sea” by Daniel Tashian–Tashian is one of those under-the-radar Nashville cats who I’m certain writes insanely sweet melodies in his sleep. The front man for The Silver Seas steps aside with a solo project here, but it’s really an extension of his band, and something that will tide this big fan over until the next Seas release.
Okay, so I just realized that I could do this all day. But maybe I should save it and do this more often. What do you think? Hit me up here, or on Facebook or Twitter. And thanks for hanging out in my music room for a bit.
(*Spoken as Jimmy Fallon doing wacky FM DJ*) And we’re back! Actually, we were planning on being back a few weeks ago, but Andrew McMahon, lead singer and songwriter of Jack’s Mannequin, is a tough guy to pin down. Turn your back on him for a second, and he’s peeled off in his tour bus to do another four months of dates. We caught his final show with Guster last month, and it was a blast, especially when the two teamed up for a cover of Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks.”
The Mannequin’s third album, People and Things, was released last week, and when McMahon finally decided to sit down and rest for a second, we were quick to strike: Tell us the 10 songs rocking your world at the moment, or your piano bites it. Surprisingly, there is little piano to be found here, but there are lots of happy techno beats. Rave on, rave on.
“Safe and Sound,” Capital Cities
A great tune in the indie/techno vein.
“Our Hearts Are Wrong,” Jessica Lea Mayfield
“The only time I miss you is every single day.” That says it all.
All right, so here’s the pitch to anyone who was tuned in to modern rock when the scene first started coming together (that would be the late ’80s, in case you weren’t sure): “Cassette 2012,” the new single by Finnish quartet Delay Trees, is the best song the Ocean Blue never wrote.
And now, lets put that into context for anyone who was born after 1982.
The Ocean Blue were a alt-pop band out of Hershey, Penn. They released their debut album in late 1989 on Sire Records — back when, you know, the label you signed to made a very clear statement about what kind of band you were — and they quickly became darlings of MTV’s late-night modern rock show “120 Minutes.” Their songs were dreamy, jangly, and melodic beyond words. Singer David Schelzel’s low tenor was quite airy (possibly a precursor to the breathy Manchester bands a year or so later), and the musicianship was tight. Their self-titled first record remains a late ’80s alt-rock gem.
And “Cassette 2012″ sounds just like that album.
The rest of their self-titled debut isn’t quite the dead ringer for the Ocean Blue, but it’s in the ballpark. Atmospheric arrangements, songs steeped in melody…it’s damn good. It doesn’t stand a chance of storming the charts on this side of the pond, but ten bucks says this will make a few soundtrack supervisors very, very happy.
God love the Republic Tigers. Their insanely melodic, mid-tempo pop is delightfully out of time, but not in a ‘let’s cash in on this retro thing’ kind of way. Think of them as a moder-day equivalent of a band like Bourgeois Tagg – thinking man’s pop for teenagers. Is that the next niche market?
Sadly, probably not, which is why we love the Tigers for doing it anyway. Their 2008 album Keep Color still receives steady airplay on the iPod, and their new EP, No Man’s Land, is more of the same, including a revved-up version of Keep Color track “The Nerve.” Check out this new song, “Merrymake It with Me,” which we’re convinced is a tip of the hat to Swedish power popsters the Merrymakers. Well, the title is. The song, not so much.
New album coming out later this year. Hopefully this will tide you over until then.
This Irish dance-rock trio is fast climbing our list of favorite bands. The song “How Your Heart Is Wired,” from their 2009 album Blue Lights on the Runway, was in power rotation at BE headquarters, so when their new album Bloodless Coup arrived in the mail, we popped that puppy right in the player. Before “Sugar High” was even over, it was our favorite song on the album.
Man, is it nice to hear two chords used so effectively. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, and this song keeps it simple in all the best ways. Well done, lads.
Welcome to the final installment in our coverage of the South by Southwest Music Festival, where we decided to listen to some people talk along with continuing to listen to people sing. The free food and drinks weren’t bad, either.
South by Southwest offers more live music than any other music event on Earth when you add in all the free day parties. Many of the the bands playing official evening showcases also schedule day party sets to maximize exposure and opportunity. But then you also have the panels at the Austin Convention Center, where industry veterans discuss a wide variety of music industry topics and concerns. It’s great to be able to take a rest from the parties and soak up some knowledge in whichever areas are of interest.
The daytime showcases and panels
Ume, Lustre Pearl
Lustre Pearl was the place to be at 1 pm on Wednesday as Ume played a rocking set to get the beautiful sunny day going in the club’s back yard. Ume was recently named by Rolling Stone as one of the 16 best unsigned bands in America, and it’s not hard to see why. Singer/guitarist Lauren Larson is a dynamic force of nature, riffing and rocking out in high-energy fashion, while her husband holds down the alt-punk-grunge low end on bass. Tunes like â€śThe Conductorâ€ť find the band putting it all together with great riffage, a catchy melodic chorus and then a big rock finish. The band sounds like they could fit right into the ’90s Seattle scene. Could they be even better if they added a lead guitarist? Perhaps.
Leslie & the Badgers were due up at Lustre Pearl after Ume, but the Badgers were MIA as Leslie Stevens played solo acoustic. But with the day still young, it was nice for the ears to follow Ume’s powerful alt-rock set with some acoustic Americana stylings and the sweet soprano voice of Stevens.
Steve Poltz, West Sixth
Steve Poltz and the Rugburns played the Dogwood on West Sixth at 2:30 pm and it was a great ’90s flashback since Poltz usually tours solo these days. The Rugburns were a band that should have been big in the ’90s, but they never quite got over the hump. But Poltz has carved out a career as an endearing singer/songwriter of catchy tunes with a great sense of humor. â€śMe and Eddie Vedderâ€ť was a highlight as always with Poltz, where he pays amusing tribute to Led Zeppelin, marijuana, LSD, the Brady Bunch and alt-rock dreams. Poltz also told an amusing story about riding his bike when he was a kid, running into a truck and needing 56 stitches in his head. He also then needed a retainer that he said became like a radio, which is what led him to start writing songs, including one about visiting Graceland and being willing to pimp out his sister to Elvis. Poltz remains one of the most unique and charming singer/songwriters in the business.
The Cloud Nothings, Mohawk Patio / Jessica Lea Mayfield, Radio Day Stage
Ohio musicians were down on the scene in the mid-afternoon as Cleveland natives the Cloud Nothings rocked the Mohawk Patio at 3:15 pm. The band has a high-energy
pop-punk sound, if that’s your thing, though they could perhaps benefit from some more dynamics in their songwriting. It was Kent, Ohio’s Jessica Lea Mayfield (below) who stole the afternoon at the convention center’s Radio Day Stage in a 4 pm set. The 22-year-old singer/songwriter is clearly an old soul, emoting in a style that seems beyond her years. Her overall vibe is sort of Midwest Americana mellow, but her songwriting keeps growing and she’s starting to incorporate a little more rock flavor into some of her tunes. She highlighted songs from her new album Tell Me, such as â€śTrouble,â€ť which starts off slow but then picks up with a solid beat and some shimmery electric guitar elements. Lead single â€śOur Hearts Are Wrongâ€ť is a big winner, with Mayfield at her best on the up-beat yet still laid back groove. This is the kind of tune that could guide Mayfield toward stardom.
Music panel: Juggalos to Phish-heads
The 5 pm hour featured an intriguing panel titled â€śJuggalos to Phish-heads: Managing Fanatical Music Consumers.â€ť The panel featured discussion about super fans and how they can at times be a double-edged sword. Amy Miller from Ticketfly moderated and related the tale of how Juggalos â€“ fans of the Insane Clown Posse â€“ had basically assaulted the notorious Tila Tequila when she tried to perform an opening set for the band. Fans had apparently vowed to abuse her and the Insane Clown Posse had even offered to pay her not to perform, yet she chose to risk life and limb. Andy Gadiel from JamBase, famous in the Phish community for his Phish site, was quick to point out how that would never happen at a Phish show. Stories were also related by panelists about fans of Jane’s Addiction and R.E.M. In the end, it seemed apparent that Phish has the most active and benevolent super fans of all.
Eisley, The Stage
If you knew you couldn’t catch Eisley in their at the Barbarella Patio, there was another chance to see them at Paste Magazine’s party at the Stage on Sixth at 7 pm. The melodic indie-pop band from Tyler, Texas played a great set, mixing older tunes with material from their forthcoming new album The Valley. With girls on guitars and keyboards and guys on drums and bass, the band delivers a majestic sound. The harmonies on â€śInvasionâ€ť were a treat, with guitarist Sheri Dupree-Bemis and keyboardist/sister Stacy Dupree soaring on the haunting yet catchy song. â€śAmbulanceâ€ť was another highlight, with Stacy shining in a Tori Amos type of way. The band has been signed since 2003 and are still fairly young, maintaining what still looks like a very high ceiling.
“Treme” party, The Ghost Room
Thursday afternoon offered a “Treme” party at the Ghost Room, featuring New Orleans jazz and funk and headlined by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Ace piano man Henry Butler also entertained the packed club, while fans enjoyed a New Orleans buffet on the patio out back featuring dirty rice and beans, jambalaya and Crawfish Monica (a spicy macaroni and cheese with crawfish tails, mmmm.) But attending the party required missing Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan delivering a solo panel back at the convention center on financial advice for musicians. This was a really tough call if you’re a fan of both G’n'R and New Orleans music.
The Joy Formidable, The Parish
English buzz band The Joy Formidable played the NPR day party at The Parish at 3:15, but the free party had a line down the street making late arrival impossible. You could still catch the band in the 5 pm hour in a party from Seattle’s KEXP at Mellow Johnny’s Bikeshop though. But for some reason, the shop had bands playing inside the shop with horrible acoustics and bad sightlines when they had an outdoor stage set up that they were only using for evening sets. The power trio did their best in a bad situation, and it was still apparent that singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan is a star on the rise. The band’s guitar-driven sound recalls Tanya Donnelly’s ’90s band Belly, with a big sound and airy yet strong vocals from the diminutive but forceful Bryan.
Nicole Atkins, The Stage
Nicole Atkins entertained fans at the ongoing Paste party at the Stage on Sixth in a 4 pm set, with a bluesy melodic vibe highlighting songs from her new album Mondo Amore. â€śThe Towerâ€ť closed the set in stylish fashion. Atkins started off the song singing in a torchy sort of style, before the tune evolved in a more powerful direction that saw her belting it out on the choruses and the ending jam.
Music panel: Writing about music in the 2010s
Friday had a 12:30 pm panel for the music critics titled â€śWriting About Music in the Twenty Tens,â€ť where attendees could glean the wisdom of writers who have managed to make a living at the game. One tip was to save all your recorded interviews, because you never know when there could be a book deal down the line where the material could come in handy. Two o’clock featured a related topic with â€śCritics vs. Publicists: Why Must Things Be Contentious?â€ť Moderator Heather West, President of Western Publicity out of Chicago, led a lively discussion on the relationship. The bottom line was that music critics and publicists need each other, so cordial and respectful behavior should be a two-way street.
The Radio Day Stage area continued to serve a key dual purpose. Bands had a chance to play afternoon sets at the convention center for badge holders who might not be able to catch them later. There were chairs up front for close-in viewing, but there was also a lounge area in the back with lots of big cushy pillows where attendees could relax and take a load off. The Felice Brothers played in the 3 pm slot and mixed a bluesy folk rock sound with a Dylan-ish vibe that was perfect for a lazy break time.
Rolling Stone party: Tennis, Surfer Blood, Stephanie Hatfield & Hot Mess
Saturday afternoon featured a Rolling Stone day party at La Zona Rosa, with barbecue, Stella Artois and tequila drinks. Tennis, Surfer Blood and the Joy Formidable all performed. Tennis had a melodic pop sound featuring waifish vocalist/keyboardist Alaina Moore. Surfer Blood out of West Palm Beach featured an anthemic guitar rock sound that recalled the Strokes to some degree, but not as hooky. It would have been great to see the Joy Formidable in a proper venue, but the 2:45 pm slot called for a trip over to Fuel on Trinity Street, where Stephanie Hatfield & Hot Mess were due. The Santa Fe band has a guitar-driven blues rock sound that serves as a canvas for the sensational vocal stylings of Ms. Hatfield, a rock goddess who can belt it out with the best of them. She went sultry, playful, mournful, anthemic; there seems to be no limit to her range. Guitarist Bill Palmer, meanwhile, was a master of six-string dynamics, always playing for the song. The band will soon release their second album and could be on the verge.
Madison House Breakfast Beats & Afternoon Treats party: Eliot Lipp, Toubab Krewe, Van Ghost, Lynx, Rival Sons
This was a treat indeed, held in the parking lot of Frontgate Ticketing’s office on South Congress and featuring free vodka drinks and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. You don’t get a lot of jam bands at SXSW, which are Madison House Publicity’s specialty, as they tend to focus on relentless touring rather than aiming for industry connections. But Madison House put together a great little lineup for the jam crowd here. DJ Eliot Lipp threw down some tricked out funky breakbeats in the 4 pm hour to entertain the assembled. He featured analog synths and futuristic vibes that had the boys dancing and the girls hula hooping. Toubab Krewe appeared again and delivered another stellar set of groovy jams that were very well received.
Van Ghost out of Chicago mixed it up with an acoustic duo version of their bluesy Americana band, featuring singer/guitarist Michael Berg and powerful vocalist Jenn Hartswick (of Trey Anastasio Band fame.) The pair delivered some of the best harmonies of the weekend, leaving fans eager to hear the whole band. Lynx followed with her one-woman act that featured an amazing vocal jam where she beat-boxed in an impressive manner that recalled the skills of actor Michael Winslow in Police Academy. The Oakland-based artist said she developed the skill from too much time being grounded and bored. She also played some great tunes featuring call-to-arms lyrics like â€śTime to give the power back to the people.â€ť She’s got a great message- someone get this girl a backing band.
It was only too bad that the crowd had diminished by 7 pm because the best was yet to come in the party’s final slot. Those who stayed were richly rewarded with an electrifying set by Rival Sons out of Los Angeles. The rocking quartet seems heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin and the Black Crowes, with an authentic blues rock sound that’s hard to come by these days. Guitarist Scott Holiday oozes coolness and is a riff master who’s obviously worshiped long and deep at the altar of Jimmy Page. Vocalist Jay Buchanan has clearly got the rare â€śitâ€ť factor that makes great singers so hard to find, bringing a vocal prowess and charismatic stage presence that stand out in a crowd of 2,000 bands.
Welcome to Part II of our South by Southwest coverage, where our tireless concert goer braves five straight days of live rock ‘n roll. First we tackled the headliners. Here, it’s showcase time.
The Evening Showcases
Official SXSW showcases took place each night, in six hourly slots from 8 pm to 1 am. So much music, so little time, so many choices. Here’s some of the highlights.
Tristen, The Phoenix
Wednesday night featured an 8 pm set from Tristen at The Phoenix. The Nashville singer/songwriter/guitarist deals out an infectious brand of pop rock with a rootsy base and strong melodic hooks. She’s got a great voice that at times recalls Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley. But â€śThe Ringerâ€ť had more of a retro pop vibe a la She and Him, while â€śNew Punching Bagâ€ť had a gloriously bouncy guitar shimmer.
Fifth Nation, The Tap Room
One of the most unique aspects/perks of SXSW is the potential to discover a great new band you’ve never heard of when your ear just happens to catch a compelling sound from the street. So it was after Tristen’s set when a soaring voice from a nearby rooftop caught our ear. A quick scramble up the stairs at the Tap Room revealed Fifth Nation, out of Brooklyn. Singer/guitarist King Julia has a voice with some of the soul undertones of a Lauren Hill or Erykah Badu, but she puts it in more of a rock context. She and drummer/keyboardist Music Read are just a duo, but create a full sound. Just catching the last 10 minutes of the set revealed this pair as a talent to keep an eye on.
Immortal Technique, Mohawk Patio
Legendary underground hip-hop artist Immortal Technique played to a packed house at the Mohawk Patio at 11 pm. He certainly delivered a high-energy set, although it seemed a bit heavy on plain old anger and a bit short on the radical, left-wing political lyrics that he’s famous for, such as a tune about 9/11 being an inside job. His message would also probably come across stronger if he had a band instead of just a DJ and four hype men.
Nico’s Gun, Annie’s West
We spent the whole evening at the ACL Live venue on Thursday, but Widespread Panic’s set was over around 12:30 am, so there was still one more showcase to be caught in the 1 am slot. The perfect aftershow party was not far away as Nico’s Gun out of Philadelphia threw down a raucous set at Annie’s West on Sixth Street. The funky rock quartet got the party going immediately as girls were dancing onstage during the first song! The band sustained that high energy level throughout their set, mixing some psychedelic qualities in with the funk to keep the Spreadheads dancing the whole time.
Liz Phair, IFC House
Friday night saw ’90s indie-alternative darling Liz Phair was in high demand rocking the intimate IFC House. Phair is 43 now, but she’s a testament to human evolution because she doesn’t look or sound a day over 28. She hit the stage rocking a short mini-skirt and her classic power pop jam â€śSupernova,â€ť which elated the small but packed room. It’s a strange venue since the concert area is so tiny, yet there are also widescreens showing the performance in the lobby where free drinks and pretzels were being served. Phair ran through a crowd-pleasing greatest hits set, but also tossed in a great new song and then closed it out in triumphant style with her classic â€śFuck and Run.â€ť
It was tempting to try and catch the psychedelic rock of Austin’s own Black Angels in the midnight hour, but the Cedar Street Courtyard was a total crowd scene as Jeff Spicoli would say, so it became more appealing to check out Toubab Krewe at Copa. The Asheville jamband drew a festive audience and delivered the goods with some uplifting melodic jams that had the Copa crowd moving and grooving.
It was also tempting to catch Sharon Van Etten at the Central Presbyterian Church at 8:30 pm on Saturday, as her sweet voice would surely sound extra fine with those sensational acoustics. But the Bright Eyes set at Auditorium Shores was just too good to leave at that point. Afterward, it was over to the Belmont on West Sixth, a great little courtyard venue where Nico’s Gun were playing again. The funk quartet were worth seeing again, especially with the improved acoustics and great light show of the classy outdoor venue. It was another great set as the boys showed themselves as a band to watch on the jam rock and festival scene.
Dawes, Lustre Pearl
There were lots of attractive options in the midnight hour with Austin power trio Ume (above) at Skinny’s Ballroom, as well as Texican rockers Los Lonely Boys at the Phoenix. But with the Band’s Robbie Robertson having recently tabbed Dawes to be his new backing band, catching them at Lustre Pearl seemed like the way to go. It didn’t take long to see why Robertson fell in love with the band; They’ve got a compelling vintage folk rock sound coming out of LA’s Laurel Canyon scene. They also have great chemistry, thanks to bassist Wylie Gelber, who was just flat-out amazing. His warm liquid bass runs showed a total mastery of the instrument and boosted every tune higher.
Coming up next: the day party sets and conference panels
â€śThere’s music everywhere you go, all the time, which is just a beautiful thing.â€ť
The 25th anniversary edition of the South by Southwest Music Conference & Festival went down in Austin, Texas this month and it was one to remember. The festival once again featured everything from semi-secret shows by arena-level headliners to all the latest â€śbuzzâ€ť bands, to ’80s favorites looking to make a comeback. This wide mix of talent is exactly what makes SXSW so unique. With somewhere around 2,000 bands playing at roughly 200 venues over five nights, it was pretty much heaven on Earth for live music junkies.
The festival keeps growing in attendance every year, so the urban chaos factor has been increasing too, leading NPR to describe the massive city-wide party as seeming like â€śone big crowded bar.â€ť It did have that vibe at times, but isn’t that kind of fun? Indeed, it is. Traffic often did look like a nightmare (you gotta have a bike, people) and there were a couple unruly incidents this year. But if you’re a party professional, there’s really nowhere you can have a better time, not to mention being able to mix business with pleasure if you’re a music industry pro. It’s the influx of party amateurs that threatens to mess up a good thing.
Two incidents exemplified this: the gate crashing at Auditorium Shores when the free show by the Strokes on Thursday had filled to its 20,000 capacity, and the mini-riot that took place at the Beauty Bar on Saturday night after it had filled to capacity for Death From Above 1979, who were billed only as â€śspecial guest.â€ť But there’s just no excuse for such behavior. There’s only, like, 200 other shows going on at any given time; if your first choice is filled to capacity, then go see someone else, This is why planning is key â€“ you always want to have two or three potential choices in any given time slot, because you never know when your top show will either be at capacity or across town from where you’ve wound up and don’t really care to travel to at that moment.
Bringing or renting a bike is key. A bike also allows you to zip back and forth to have maximum flexibility to see your most preferred shows. It’s simple Vulcan logic. The other great thing about having so many choices is that SXSW can mean so many different things to so many different music fans. It’s all out there, as every genre is represented. You can focus on one or sample them all like the massive musical buffet that SXSW is. If you’re not having a great time, you’re just not trying. Here follows one Gen-X rock ‘n’ roller’s musical menu, broken down into headliners, other evening showcases and day parties.
Foo Fighters, Stubbâ€™s BBQ
SXSW Music has traditionally run from Wednesday through Saturday. But this year they decided to add some showcases on Tuesday evening as well. Yet there seemed to be something missing compared to the past two years. There was no blank spot in the Friday night lineup at Stubbs BBQ for a semi-secret arena level headliner (which turned out to be Metallica in 2009 and Muse in 2010.)
But then something stood out on the Tuesday schedule for SXSW Film â€“ the world premiere of The Foo Fighters’ new rockumentary â€śBack and Forthâ€ť at the Paramount Theater, with the program stating that Music badges were good for admission to the screening. Then word came down through a local music blog’s Facebook page early on Tuesday â€“ a Stubbs employee said the the Foo Fighters would be playing a â€śsecretâ€ť show at Stubbs that night. Was it invite-only, or would which badges would gain admittance? This was unclear. But applying Vulcan logic, it was easy to conjure a likely scenario â€“ if you attended the film, you would get into the show at Stubbs, because wouldn’t it just make sense to play the show for the people who were big enough fans to attend the film premiere?
When a lone member of a band continues to tour under the name that made him famous, it’s usually a sad sight. Infighting has led to acrimony, lawsuits and injunctions are filed, and worst of all, the last person standing, most likely the lead singer, is too proud to admit that maybe their songs and their singing or playing ability have just not held up well, and it’s time to pack it in.
Then there’s Dave Wakeling.
Wakeling is the leader of ska pop giants the English Beat, and rather than get into legal dust-ups with his former band mates, he and fellow singer Ranking Roger have worked out a deal where Wakeling tours as the Beat in the United States, while Roger, along with original Beat drummer Everett Morton, tours as the Beat in the band’s native England. Everybody makes money, everybody’s happy. How refreshing. Even better, Wakeling is not content to waltz into the sunset – the band he hired to round out the US version of the English beat are smoking hot, and the two-hour show they unleashed on the ecstatic audience at Skully’s Music Diner was a textbook lesson on how to do a so-called nostalgia show.
We use that word ‘nostalgia’ reluctantly, but it must be said. Wakeling loathes the recording studio – his direct quote to us, when we interviewed Wakeling in 2009, was “I think the process of recording 12 songs in a row, at the same time, I used to find it interminably boring. I hated it. You know, you just listen to your own songs for three months, good God” – and hasn’t released anything new under any name since 1995. Not surprisingly, the evening’s set list contained the lion’s share of the Beat’s debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It, with a few songs from Special Beat Service and Wakeling’s spinoff band General Public mixed in (“Never You Done That” was a most welcome surprise), and by sticking with their best-known songs, Wakeling and crew had a mostly 40+ crowd dancing nonstop for two straight hours, which is no small feat. Wakeling’s between-song banter is lightning quick and often hilarious, and his band, anchored by terrific drummer Rhythmm Epkins, were super-tight, with several songs stretched well past their album running times.
There are only eight dates left on the English Beat’s current US tour. If they’re playing in your town, or even within 50 miles of your town, go. The live show is sensational and the tickets are cheap, plus they still have the coolest t-shirts of any band alive.
Forgive the decision to use first person for this one, but the editorial ‘we’ just doesn’t apply here.
I am not one for acoustic shows. Whenever I see a guy with an acoustic guitar anymore, I want to pull a Bluto and smash it to bits. This from a guy who did an acoustic gig with his brother the weekend of his wedding. I blame Jack Johnson, really. That whole surfer/hippie scratcha scratcha scratcha thing just bores me. Long story short, when I saw that my beloved Trashcan Sinatras were coming to Dayton to play the Canal Street Tavern, I was in. When I saw it was an acoustic show, I was slightly less in.
Boy, did they show me. Breaking the evening into two sets, and playing requests submitted in advance online by their fans, the Trashcans positively soared. The harmony vocals by the Douglas brothers (Jon on guitar, Stephen on drums) stood out much better in the acoustic setting, and the band shrewdly mixed in a few electric instruments to give the overall sound a little more thump. Smart move, that.
The set list was divine, showcasing each of the band’s five albums relatively equally. From what my friends who saw them in Cleveland said, though, they’re shaking up the set list drastically each night, so you might hear six of the songs they played here. The main focus, of course, was on In the Music, the band’s newest album, from which they played six of the album’s 10 tracks. Guitarist Paul Livingston sat in the back on a chair, staring at his (electric) guitar as if there wasn’t anyone else in the room (think Johnny Greenwood, without the floppy hair), while drummer Stephen Douglas had the coolest “acoustic” drum setup you’ve ever seen. The kick drum was digital, just a pedal with a pre-amp that gave extra impact to the various shakers, bongos, triangles and snare hits (brushes, of course) that he mixed in. Also, he had a tambourine on his left foot. Very cute.
The star of the show, though, was lead singer Frank Reader, whose voice sounds just as pure as it did when the band dropped their debut Cake in 1990. And speaking of Cake, what a nice surprise to hear the band break out not just “Obscurity Knocks” and “Only Tongue Can Tell,” the album’s two singles, but also “Drunken Chorus,” A B-side from the Cake years. The most pleasant surprise, however, was the inclusion of three songs from the band’s rare 1996 album A Happy Pocket (which goes for upwards of 50 bucks on Amazon), finishing the evening with a rousing version of “The Therapist.”
You have to hand it to bands like the Trashcans. The new album isn’t selling because no one buys records anymore (though I saw them sell a few copies at the show), and the tickets were cheap ($12, holler), so they’re probably not making much on those. I hope they’re shifting a lot of merchandise – they were selling flash drives containing the evening’s performance shortly after the show – because it would be a shame to see a band like this pack it in due to financial constraints, especially when they have proven time and again that they still have so much to offer. There are only a few dates left on the tour, so if you live in any of the following cities, go. You shannae regret it.
March 24 St. Louis, Mo Firebird (acoustic)
March 26 Minneapolis, Mn Cedar Cultural Center
March 27 Kansas City, Mo Knuckleheads (acoustic)
March 28 Denver, Co The Walnut Room (acoustic)
March 29 Salt Lake City, Ut The State Room (acoustic)
March 31 Los Angeles, Ca The Bootleg Theater (acoustic)