Peter Block: Peter Block

RIYL: Candy Butchers, The Beatles, Randy Newman

Peter Block has done what many others have done before him – assembled a solid batch of songs following the pain of a divorce. Block was divorced after 16 years of marriage, and channeled the pain of that and the physical pain from two herniated discs in his back into creating music. Along with producer Mike Viola of Candy Butchers fame, and with co-writers that included Viola as well as Tracy Bonham and Dan Miller of They Might Be Giants, Block has a record he can be proud of as he jumps full force into the next chapter of his life. The songs on here are bright and breezy, yet intellectual pop. But one of the reasons Block is so compelling is that no one song sounds the same. The best tracks are the opener “Die a Little Everyday,” a melancholy pop gem; the bouncy Randy Newman-ish “In a State,” which has some slick guitar and key production; and the sad but catchy “Good to See You Gone,” in which Block attempts to do his best Shawn Mullins impression. Block is clearly at his best when he’s going up-tempo. Otherwise, as on the pulsing slow rocker “Room Full of Empty Chairs,” he just sounds like he’s trying too hard. Either way though, this is a solid release if you’re into the adult alternative thing and a fan of good songwriting in general. (Engine Room Recordings 2010)

Peter Block website


Concert review: They Might Be Giants, Capitol Theatre, Columbus OH 3/14/10: “We Want Cake! Where’s Our Cake?”

If you’re looking for Brooklyn’s Finest, avoid the multiplex this weekend; you’ll find them in concert in the form of infectiously catchy geek rockers They Might Be Giants. Supporting their latest kid-oriented, parent-friendly CD/DVD release Here Comes Science, TMBG stopped in Columbus recently and pulled out all the stops.

Frontmen John Linnell and John Flansburgh led a set that drew heavily from Science and its Grammy-winning predecessor, Here Come the 123s, making sure to include tracks that gave their bandmates a moment in the spotlight. Fans were encouraged to cheer for bassist Danny Wienkauf as he sang lead on “I Am a Paleontologist” because “he’s having a birthday this year,” and to welcome percussionist and “High Five” lead singer Marty Beller “straight from the dance halls of New York” – though, regrettably, the stage setup seemed to dissuade fans from actually high-fiving Marty during the song; he had to settle for air-fives. Horn master Curt Ramm was touted as “the hardest-working member of the band,” and he proved it, knocking out a stellar version of “Seven Days of the Week” on trumpet and following up later with tuba, more trumpet, and of course the irresistible horn intro added to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”


But the music, while solid, was only the bare cake. This being a family show, TMBG knew they needed plenty of frosting for the kids. Upon entering the show, every child attendee was given a giant foam finger emblazoned with the band’s name – which came in handy for pre-show tickling and sword fights. Early tracks such as “Kids Go!” encouraged the little ones to get up out of their seats, “move like a monkey” and “move like a jumping bean.” During “Particle Man,” Linnell exhorted his young fans to “keep clapping: It’s the only thing that keeps our spirits up when the chord changes to C Minor.” Ironically, the one missed opportunity with regard to audience participation was the criminal omission of fan favorite “Seven,” with its “We want cake! Where’s our cake?” lyrics just born to be screamed by a theater full of children.

Despite that shortcoming, the band delivered ample visual frosting as well: Beller’s drum kit was accessorized with a toy pigeon, and, in a joke that everyone past the first several rows likely missed, Linnell’s accordion was labeled his “Main Squeeze.” Halfway through the show, Linnell and Flansbaugh disappeared, replaced by a puppet duo dubbed “The Avatars of Men” who shared uncanny vocal similarities with John and John. In a nod to Spinal Tap the parents surely appreciated, the Avatars thanked TMBG for serving as their opening act, and then launched into a goofy, disco-ball-accented version of “Shooting Star.”

And what good is a children’s cake without sprinkles on it? As if the live experience of nearly all their favorite TMBG songs weren’t enough, the audience was showered in colorful confetti at the beginning, middle and end of the show. Kids young and old leapt out of their seats to catch the bright, fluttering sprinkles. Boys stuffed handfuls of confetti into the openings in their foam fingers to hoard for later; a little girl shared some with the three-year-old sitting behind her, who happened to be my son. His eyes gleaming, hands filled with confetti, he beamed at me after the show and said, “We saw Giants!”

We saw Giants, indeed.


From me, to you: They Might Be Giants do Christmas

Like everyone else, I’m super busy during the holidays. Running from place to place and trying to accommodate people’s needs, I often want to retreat to a bar and spend my Christmas with strangers. It’s easy to forget the joy that comes with holidays, but I think They Might Be Giants can help.


The Echo Falls: The Echo Falls

The Echo Falls is a lesson in simplicity – the debut album from this San Francisco based trio features three guys (including front man and songwriter Alex Mandel) who will remind you of both ‘70s pop (think Loggins & Messina or Seals & Crofts) and current lo-fi hipsters (think Death Cab for Cutie). Delivering songs using only an acoustic guitar, upright bass and sparse drums and percussion will do that, but the tracks themselves have an endearing vibe that is a refreshing counterpoint to what passes for adult album alternative these days. Mandel waffles between tenor and falsetto and does it with ease, and the songs range from the triumphant kickoff “Road to Parnassus” to the (you have to hear this to believe it) They Might Be Giants-meets-Suzanne Vega quirky vibe of “Watchtower.” There’s other elements at work here too; breezy college rock (“Every Second Thought” and “You Have it All”) and ‘70s folk (“Fall Asleep in the Sand”). But the best track of all is “Love Over Time,” which could be the best guitar song Ben Folds never wrote. There’s enough to please many folks on this debut – it’s not like you can vary things a whole lot with sparse production, but the Echo Falls do a pretty decent job of it. (The Echo Falls 2009)

The Echo Falls MySpace Page


Watch They Might Be Giants on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”

In support of their new children’s album, Here Comes Science, They Might Be Giants recently stopped by “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” They performed the song “Meet the Elements,” which is both bouncy and informative.

Man, I need to see this band live again.