Bruce Springsteen live: When I Leave Berlin

Here’s Bruce’s cover of When I Leave Berlin by British Folk musician Wizz Jones.

South by Southwest 2011 Music recap, Part I: The Headliners

“There’s music everywhere you go, all the time, which is just a beautiful thing.”

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 “buzz” 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 “one big crowded bar.” 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 “special guest.” 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 – 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.

The Headliners

Foo Fighters, Stubb’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 – the world premiere of The Foo Fighters’ new rockumentary “Back and Forth” 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 – a Stubbs employee said the the Foo Fighters would be playing a “secret” 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 – 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?


Read the rest after the jump...

ESDMusic’s South by Southwest 2011 Music Preview

AUSTIN, TX – The 25th anniversary edition of the SXSW Music and Media Conference is upon us this week and it’s shaping up to be another gala event for live music junkies. The initial lineup may have looked a bit underwhelming, but that first announcement never shows the big picture. When you have around 2,000 bands from all over the world scheduled to play, there’s going to be more bands that you don’t recognize than you do. But the big name additions have been coming in over the past few weeks, as has the rising buzz on up and coming bands contending to be your new favorites.

Here’s my top 10 “name artists” I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing (even a badge doesn’t guarantee access if a venue has reached capacity, while a small handful of showcases are also private parties necessitating an invite.) Then I’ll list five “buzz bands” I’m eager to check out as well…

Widespread Panic – ACL Live at the Moody Theater – Thursday, March 17 – 11 pm
The southern jam rock titans from Georgia are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2011. They’ll mark the occasion by playing the first ever SXSW showcase that will also serve as a taping for the Austin City Limits TV show. The brand new ACL Live venue – just opened last month – is a swank theater with a 2,700 seat capacity, although there have been rumors that ACL tapings will only take 800. Getting there early figures to be key, which is why Spreadheads may have to pass up the Strokes’ 8 pm set at Auditorium Shores (a park on Town Lake on the edge of downtown that offers free shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.) But Panic will also be preceded by some fine openers with the New Mastersounds at 8:15 pm and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at 9:30 pm.

The Foo Fighters – Austin Music Hall – Wednesday, March 16
The alt-rock icons will be in town for the premiere of the band’s new rockumentary “Back and Forth” on Tuesday at the Paramount Theater. It was also recently announced that they’ll play at “The 2011 mtvU Woodie Awards” on Wednesday along with Wiz Khalifa, Two Door Cinema Club, Sleigh Bells and more, which will air live on three MTV channels. But this is not listed as an official SXSW showcase, so badge holders apparently need to win one of 850 tickets MTV will be giving away. Fingers are crossed.

Men Without Hats – Club De Ville – Friday, March 18 – 1 am
Anyone who grew up with the dawn of MTV in the early-to-mid ’80s will remember this Canadian band and their iconic video for their infectious smash hit, “The Safety Dance.” There’s a lot of attractive showcases happening in this hour on Friday, but this Gen-Xer is not passing up his chance do the Safety Dance at one of Austin’s nicest outdoor clubs.

The Airborne Toxic Event – Stubbs BBQ – Friday, March 18 – 10:30 pm
These Los Angeles indie rockers with the heartfelt sound were one of my favorite random discoveries at SXSW in 2009. I was walking out of the convention center when a girl connected with the band in some way said I shouldn’t leave because a great band was about to play. She described them as having a Bowie-ish vibe with a female violinist. That drew me in to witness a scintillating afternoon set that was a triumph. They’re about to release their second album and playing at Stubbs – ground-zero for SXSW showcases – means they’re moving up to the big time.

Bright Eyes – Auditorium Shores Stage – Saturday, March 19 – 7:30 pm
Conor Oberst has put his Mystic Valley Band on hold to put out a new album with Bright Eyes and the band will headline the Saturday night show at Town Lake. You get an eclectic mix of people since it’s a free show and it’s a gorgeous location for a show with the Austin skyline looming in the background. The band got a lukewarm review on their Radio City Music Hall show from The New York Times, but hopefully they’ll be ready to deliver the goods here. Oberst starred with Monsters of Folk at last October’s ACL Festival.

Immortal Technique – Mohawk Patio – Wednesday, March 16 – 11 pm
One of the most militant and revolutionary MCs in the world, Immortal Technique is a role model for any artist that wants to do it their own way. He’s remained steadfastly independent, refusing to allow major label control of his music or brand. It’s hard to conceive of a major corporate entity that would let him do his thing though, due to his radical way he speaks truth to power. If you feel that 9/11 was an inside job, Immortal Technique is your man.

The Kills – Emo’s Main Room – Thursday, March 17 – 11 pm
Singer Alison Mosshart’s profile was raised to a higher level when Jack White teamed up with her in the Dead Weather. Now she returns to her previous band, where it should be interesting to see how charismatic dark angel incorporates her Dead Weather experience. I can’t catch this set since it conflicts with Widespread Panic, but I’m hoping to see them at the SPIN day party at Stubbs on Friday or their appearance at the IFC House.

TV on the Radio – Stubbs BBQ – Thurday, March 17 – 12:30 am
SXSW will be booming on Thursday night as these trendy indie-pop rockers will be headlining Stubbs BBQ. They’d flown a bit under my radar until Phish covered the band’s “Golden Age” at an Albany show in 2009, then played it again last fall in Colorado. The catchy tune and its uplifting message certainly caught the attention of the Phish Nation. Attendees of Widespread Panic won’t be able to get here for this either, but the band is also headlining that SPIN day party at Stubbs the next day.

Beats Antique – Frontgate Tickets Party – 1711 South Congress – Friday, March 18 – 4:20 PM
This trio out of Oakland has been blowing up on the festival and jam-rock scene over the past year with a groovy vibe that features an Eastern sound with mystical overtones. Their official showcase is Friday night at the Beauty Bar at 1 am, but that’s a conflict for anyone who wants to see Men Without Hats. But the band is also playing several day parties, as many younger bands do.

Liz Phair – IFC House – Friday, March 18 – 8 PM
The indie alt-rock princess of the ’90s has gone through various phases of experimentation and flirted with commercialism, but it seems like she just wants to rock now. She’s in her 40s, but she’s still a total hottie and her 2008 tour featured her classic Exile in Guyville album in its entirety. Now she has a new album where she says she’s letting it all hang out.

Buzz Bands

Most of these bands are playing multiple showcases and day parties, a common trend for younger bands looking to max out potential exposure…

Ume
This local Austin (by way of Houston) power trio features dynamic frontwoman Lauren Larson on guitar and her husband on bass. They were recently named one of the best unsigned bands in America by Rolling Stone. Larson’s petite size is a red herring for what a force to be reckoned with she is onstage.

The Joy Formidable
Another female-fronted power trio, of which there are still too few. This trio is from the UK and was also recently cited by Rolling Stone as a “Band to Watch”, with angelic vocals from Ritzy Bryan that bring Metric to mind, but with maybe a bigger guitar sound.

Jessica Lea Mayfield
This young singer/songwriter from Kent, Ohio was sort of discovered by the Black Keys. Her earliest stuff was way mellow and kind of depressing, but the single from her new album, “Our Hearts Are Wrong,” is so good that Dave Letterman had her on to play it for the national TV audience last month.

Nico’s Gun
A funky and psychedelic quartet of rockers out of Philadelphia. They have a diverse sound from groovy dance numbers like “Dirty Girl” to sparkling pop gems such as “We Are Fluorescent.” They apparently fancy themselves as a “punk rock Michael Jackson,” but they sure rock more than the Gloved One did.

Stephanie Hatfield & Hot Mess
Bluesy rock out of Santa Fe, New Mexico from another husband and wife team. Singer Stephanie Hatfield has a captivating voice that can really rock or go sultry, and guitarist/husband Bill Palmer is an ace bandleader who sets her up to win every time. The band burned it down at the Continental Club on their visit to Austin last year and will be showcasing tunes from their forthcoming second album.

Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender


RIYL: Lucinda Williams, Joni Mitchell

“The Laugh of Recognition” is the pretty, mellow song that begins the new Over the Rhine album, The Long Surrender. With layers of piano, echoed guitar and the drummer chugging along with brushes on the snare, the song sets the mood for this collection of lovely music from the underground folk rock band.

The songs of The Long Surrender are country-based, atmospheric treasures full of passion and featuring nothing but the finest musicianship from Karen Bergquist, her husband and band mate, Linford Detweiler, their producer Joe Henry, and the fine musicians he’s helped assemble for this album. Upon first listen, you may think the album could use a rocker or two, something a little upbeat, but repeated listens reveal that the album doesn’t need it. Bergquist sings with such conviction and the lyrics are so intricate that the songs demand attention rather than too much foot tapping.

What separates Over the Rhine’s music from so many of the singer/songwriter “Grey’s Anatomy” soundtrack crowd is Bergquist’s unique vocals.  With a slight slur in her voice, it recalls a little bit of Rickie Lee Jones and a touch of Lucinda Williams, who also duets with Bergquist on the track “Undamned.”

If you’ve never heard of or listened to Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender is an excellent starting point. After 15 years of albums and touring, it would be nice if these critical darlings would wider attention from the general public. (Great Speckled Dog 2011)

Over the Rhine MySpace page

Epigene: A Wall Street Odyssey (The City, The Country and Back Again)


RIYL: The Who, Rush, Yes

On paper, I should like this album.  It has many of the elements I like in rock music:  big themes, a narrative, and prog-rock flourishes.  But this is quite possibly the worst album I have heard in this genre for a long time – and yet I admire the moxie of Epigene, the husband and wife duo of Sean Bigler and Bonnie Lykes. I mean, who has the balls to produce a two-CD concept album – especially in 2010?  Well, I think we know the answer to that question, but simply producing such an opus of this scale isn’t enough; one has to have substance.  And while the story of A Wall Street Odyssey (The, City, The Country and Back Again) isn’t short on earnestness, it lacks an important ingredient in rock operas: a certain amount of subtly, and a generous helping of hooks and thunderous power chords.

The story follows Yossarian (in a nod to Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22″) from his career as a Wall Street stockbroker, to drug-addicted homeless victim of corporate downsizing, to being saved by his brother and brought to an agrarian commune of left-libertarians where he learns to toil on the land, commune with nature, and find love. After some time has elapsed,  Yossarian finds he’s compelled “go back” to the belly of the beast and tell anyone who will listen about the virtue of land and living simply. Naturally, the sight of a bearded country bumpkin spouting the evils of corporate capitalism, dense urbanism, and the culture it breeds is met with disdain. And even though Yossarian is ostracized for his beliefs, the financial and political apocalypse he warns the city-dwellers comes to pass, and, predictably, a one-world fascist government arises and oppresses the people.  Yossarian (with the help of a bicycle that flies) is able to leave the city and get back to the freedom of the country – believing, in the end, that he has to let each find their own way in the world.

Like I said at the outset, the story isn’t subtle. But it’s not just the story that lacks subtlety. The songs themselves are more mini-sermons than fully formed tunes.  Lacking sufficient hooks, a variation in style, and even some much-needed ambiguity, song after song on A Wall Street Odyssey are exercises in tedium. Alas, it’s a tedium that’s borne out of the best of intentions and ambitions, but falls under the weight of its own bathetic excesses. (Amammi Music 2011)

Epigene MySpace page

Wooden Wand: Death Seat


RIYL: Acoustic Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits

Wooden Wand’s latest, Death Seat, is a collection of acoustic dirges that recall long nights sitting around drinking, maybe on the front porch with the fireflies flickering up the night, or maybe in a dank bar somewhere in the sticks, where the beer is a little flat and the whiskey has a cheap bite.

Singer, songwriter James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, has a voice reminiscent of a young Mick Jagger. It has that darkness and snarl we all fell in love with the first time we heard the Stones. The songs Toth has written for Death Seat are soaked in folk and the blues, giving the album the feeling of something recorded 40 years ago, not 2010.

The highlight of the album is “Bobby,” a pained ballad that reflects on a friend who’s left this world too soon. It’s a haunting song that will stir up remorse for anyone who has lost a friend this way.  Songs like “I Made You” and “Servant to Blues” are spooky numbers, while “I Wanna Make a Difference” is a soulful confession between the protagonist and a lover or a family member.

If you’re a fan of Springsteen’s Nebraska or Johnny Cash’s American recordings, sparse albums full of dark storytelling, Death Seat falls in that same territory. It’s not the kind of album you throw on in the middle of a house party. However, once the guests have left and everyone is winding down, Death Seat has the kind of late night coolness that feels just right. (Young God 2010)

Wooden Wand MySpace page

Cara Jean Wahlers and Grover Parido: Goodnight Charlotte


RIYL: Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Joni Mitchell

Goodnight Charlotte is the debut album from Cara Jean Wahlers and Grover Parido. It’s an intimate collection of songs that feature the primary instruments of Wahlers’ wonderful singing voice and Parido’s cello playing. This unique paring of singer/songwriter and cellist working together for an entire CD may not be new, however, on Goodnight Charlotte, the music is fresh and vibrant and the lyrics are thoughtful, creating a unique experience.

Wahlers’ songwriting is very visual, creating a sense of place and time. As a storyteller, she’s reminiscent of Lucinda Williams or Joni Mitchell, two names her publicist has included as influences. The singer’s voice recalls the elegance and naturalness of Mary Chapin Carpenter, another great singer/songwriter who can put you at ease, even though she’s breaking your heart.

Parido’s cello playing adds another layer of poignancy to Goodnight Charlotte. The instrument is such a melancholy instrument to begin with that no matter how hard Parido may try, his performances tinge the songs with sadness. Take a listen to “Black Dog,” a beautiful tale about a long lost love, and you’ll understand. Parido takes a solo on every single song and his presence fills in the empty spaces of Wahlers’ sparse guitar playing. This partnership between Wahlers and Parido is effective and lifts the material above the usual coffeehouse fare.

Still, it would have been interesting if they’d included a couple of songs that were just Wahlers backed by her guitar, and maybe some other acoustic instruments. The singer has a strong enough voice ad her guitar playing is subtle enough that she could have survived without the cello. This would have given Goodnight Charlotte just enough variety to make the album a classic. That said, it’s still a fantastic debut and will keep me looking out for this duo when they release future albums. (CDBY 2010)

Cara Jean Wahlers MySpace page

Steal This Song: U.S. Royalty, “Monte Carlo”

Holy west coast pop, Batman. Now this is a sound that we wouldn’t mind seeing catch on and infiltrate the mainstream…again.

US_Royalty_02

We’re on our first spin through Mirrors, the debut album U.S. Royalty, a band who is about as far removed as one can get from the west coast while still being in the States (they’re from Washington DC), and it has a vibe to it that is instantly familiar without sounding derivative. Big, soaring vocals with some nicely stacked harmonies, along with the occasional foray into feedback, these guys are definitely a band to watch. Fans of Fleetwood Mac are going to jump all over “Monte Carlo.” It’s like “Dreams” as a driving song. Get it now, so you can say you were there first.

Click here to download U.S. Royalty – Monte Carlo

Sarah Sample: Someday, Someday


RIYL: Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, Ray LaMontagne

Sarah Sample rises above the typical “Grey’s Anatomy” genre of female singer/songwriting-heart-on-my-sleeve-because-the-whole-world-hurts music with her distinct voice and country-tinged songwriting. It’s the kind of voice that gets under your skin and can lift you up. Her voice can also lift up the material she’s singing, as it does on her album, Someday, Someday.

This album of adult alternative music is full of intimate songs about love and relationships. The lyrics are straightforward and effective, coupled with Sample’s gift for beautiful melodies. Upon first listen, you’ll be immediately taken by Sample’s upbeat delivery, even on the gentle ballads she’s written. Someday, Someday grows on you after repeated listens and soon you’ll find yourself with songs like “I’m Ready,” “One Mistake,” and the soulful rocker “Staying Behind” stuck in your head for days on end. You’ll also feel your heartstrings being tugged.

Sample’s voice can really stir up the emotions, making her much better than so many of her contemporaries. Since radio is dead and TV and film soundtracks are where new artists get most of their exposure, let’s hope some music supervisor comes across this fine album and helps Sample get the exposure she deserves. Until then, it’s up to word of mouth to spread the word about an artist like her. We’ve done our part; now it’s up to you. (Groundloop Records 2010)

Sarah Sample’s website

Purchase Someday, Someday through Amazon

Mt. Desolation: Mt. Desolation


RIYL: The Thrills, The Pogues, The Lilac Time

If you had asked us what we expected the next move to be from Keane after they released their fourth album Night Train in May of this year, our gut response would have been “lengthy hiatus, followed by announcement of signing with new, smaller label.” Don’t get us wrong, we love the boys from Battle, but the release of Night Train, coming so quickly on the heels of the band’s 2008 album Perfect Symmetry, looked for all intents and purposes like they were trying to fulfill their contractual obligations to Interscope and move on. Consider this: Night Train was designated EP status in their native England. Here, it’s a full-fledged long-player. Hmmm.

Mt_Desolation_01

Keane may very well be going on a lengthy hiatus, but two of its members have already cranked out their first side project, which makes it their third album in two years: Mt. Desolation, a collection of, wait for it, country songs, filtered through their English sensibilities. It’s country in the same way that the Thrills are West Coast pop, but Mt. Desolation is a charming album just the same. Rice-Oxley and Quin don’t have the booming voice of their bandmate Tom Chaplin, but their voices actually suit these songs better, though it would be nice to hear Chaplin take a whack at the Keane-ish “Bitter Pill” somewhere down the road. The album has its share of drinking songs (“My My My”) and shit-kickers (“Annie Ford,” “Platform 7″), and while it’s clear that country music is more of a hobby than a lifestyle for those involved, it’s also clear that these songs come from the heart, making this a more honest country record than most country records. Writing a song that could pass for a B-side to Beck’s Sea Change (“Another Night”) doesn’t hurt, either. This is one side project that we’d like to see grow some legs. (Cherry Tree/Interscope 2010)

Mt. Desolation MySpace page
Click to buy Mt. Desolation from Amazon

Related Posts