[MusicNOW] Little Scream @ Memorial Hall 5.14.11

Little Scream and her all-star band put on one of the best shows I’ve seen all year — no small feat for a band I’d only heard one song by prior to the show. And really, I can’t overstate how fantastic this show was. Part of it was her backing band, which consisted of the majority of people who played at MusicNOW, but it was really the source material that made the biggest impression. Seeing this group stomp out “Canons” on stage at Memorial Hall will probably be the to-beat live moment of the summer for me.

Over the course of her set, Little Scream was backed by Richard Parry of the Arcade Fire, Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the National, Owen Pallett, Shara Worden and Sharon Van Etten in some combination or another. At the end she brought them all back out to be joined by Megafaun to sing one of their Songs of the South a cappella. It was a fantastically delicate ending to a powerful show.

Lots more photos after the break

Continue reading [MusicNOW] Little Scream @ Memorial Hall 5.14.11

[MusicNOW] Tim Hecker @ Memorial Hall 5.15.11

My problem with most ambient musicians is that they don’t really give me a lot to chew on; their music tends to be very airy and light. Tim Hecker is very chewy. No, my only problem with his show is that it might as well have happened in the dark. The audience was easily twice as well lit as the stage. But hey, I don’t think visuals are really the point of a Tim Hecker performance.

I enjoyed Hecker’s main set, but it really picked up with Bryce Dessner joined him on guitar. Electronic sets are great, but every now and then you just need a little guitar.

El Ten Eleven @ Cosmic Charlies 5.2.11

I originally planned on seeing Paleo at the Green Lantern, but that fell through when I was the only paying person who showed up to see them. Apparently bands don’t really like to play for $5. So I dashed over to Cosmic Charlies to see El Ten Eleven for a few minutes. I enjoyed it, despite not having heard more than a few minutes of their stuff before. It was like post-rock Ratatat with a lot of looping and finger tapping.

My Morning Jacket @ Memorial Coliseum 4.17.11

During a sublimely transcendent moment of “Dondante” in My Morning Jacket’s Lexington show, I inhaled strongly and sucked a cough drop quickly into my throat. In the instant I thought “Can I breathe?” I hadn’t recovered enough to really know the answer. Assuming the worst, I realized that — should I have to die before my time — you could do a lot worse than to go out at a My Morning Jacket concert.

Now, all this happened in the time it takes to blink twice — so I really didn’t move or react. But it was a very weird moment that really drove home just how good My Morning Jacket are live. If I’d feared for my life at most any other band I’d imagine my mind would be racing with thoughts of “This is how I die? At a buzz band showcase at SXSW??” But nope. This is a band I’ll stand with forever; a band I’ll live and die with — but thankfully not for a while on that last one.

Let me start by saying that I had to leave this show early. I had to make a PM drive to West Virginia to attend a funeral, so I checked out just after the band played a song or two after Ben Sollee joined them to play “Wonderful.” Had I stayed for the full show, I’m fairly confident that I could easily call this the second best time I’ve seen My Morning Jacket. The first will most likely forever be late night Bonnaroo 2006. Their three hour set in the rain made my first time seeing MMJ absolutely incredible. But this was as good as a coverless present-day set of theirs probably gets.

Durin ghte show a lot of ideas ran through my head about how Jim must feel to be back in Lexington. A few songs in and I realized that everything I figured he must be thinking was actually somehow what I would think if I was in his situation. He lived in Lexington for a bit in college and spoke a few times about it. He shared the story about being here for UK’s championship basketball loss and victory in 97/98 (“No matter what, you fucking rioted”) and a bit of well aimed local college pandoring: “God bless the Euclid Avenue Kroger!” A good deal of My Morning Jacket’s formation happened in UK’s Holmes Hall. And though it seems Lexington didn’t do much to support MMJ in the early years, he clearly holds no grudge. Or if he does, he didn’t let it get in the way of an incredible show and some cheerful between-song banter.

What made this show extra special was the return of the opener Ben Sollee. I’m generally a fan of opener collaboration — this one especially so. Ben came out to play cello three times, the best of which was his contribution to “Wonderful.” That track has long been played live by MMJ, but it’s finally going to appear on the upcoming record Circuital featuring Ben on cello. It was fantastic. I remember hearing Ben’s cello on a few My Morning Jacket songs when he toured with Jim and Daniel Martin Moore, but this takes that to a completely new level. My only wish is that the cello had been turned up a bit — kinda hard to fight its way out from a drum kit and several distorted guitars.

The only other really noteworthy inclusion was the Tennessee Fire track “Butch Cassidy,” which Jim talked a bit about. He said he wrote that song in Holmes Hall after getting off work at Fazolis. Giant cheers from the crowd, many of whom no doubt get off work from crappy jobs and go back to tiny dorms on that same street. It didn’t come across as an intentionally inspiring thing, but to me it was. To any aspiring songwriters in the auditorium, that story would have come across as a godsend of encouragement. And I hope it did. Only I hope the next superstar to come out of UK put in their time in Kirwan tower — that way I’ll have a reason to smile.

Lots more photos after the break.

Continue reading My Morning Jacket @ Memorial Coliseum 4.17.11

Ben Sollee @ Memorial Coliseum 4.17.11

I feel that over the next year or so, it’ll be hard for me to avoid slipping into the cliche “look how far Ben Sollee has come” rut when talking about his staggeringly great live shows in front of increasingly large audiences. Of course, me falling into the “remember when” pattern with Ben is kind of a laugh, given that it wasn’t until well after Learning to Bend that I realized how lucky Lexington was to have him. But I’ve learned. So have lots of others. And after seeing Ben’s performance at Memorial Coliseum, I know that this show wasn’t the culmination of years of work — I know that he’s at the start of something great.

Let me start by saying that there’s nothing about my record collection, iTunes library or general listening habits that would indicate a deep affinity for Ben’s music. I really don’t listen to anyone else who sounds remotely like him. But he’s such a great singer, songwriter and cellist that he’s pretty much irresistible. The other day I told a friend that Ben occupies this incredibly rare and mythical space where he fits in just as well with the NPR/Starbucks crowd as he does with the Bonnaroo bunch. If you strip “Mass Appeal” of its negative connotations, that’s Ben to a T.

So what of his Memorial Coliseum performance? It was easily the best I’ve seen Ben. Obviously it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen him with a band (BS, DMM + JJ or Ben and Daniel), but it was my first time seeing him with members that felt like his band. I didn’t write down their names, but his violinist/bassist and drummer were perfect. Ben must’ve known it too, since he couldn’t stop grinning at either of them.

It’s hard to say what material played the best. The new song “Electrified” sounded fantastic, but it’s really tough to discount Dear Companion standout “Try” and the always great Learning to Bend stuff. Really, that’s probably left to people who weren’t hearing these songs done live for the dozenth time. But I can say that everything was fantastic.

More photos after the break

Continue reading Ben Sollee @ Memorial Coliseum 4.17.11

Record Store Day @ CD Central 4.16.11

Hours later and I still can’t decide if Record Store Day 2011 was more stressful or more fun. There were moments where I was sure the crowd was too big, but everyone stayed respectful and had a great time. Major thanks to all the bands that played, My Morning Jacket for signing things longer than they were supposed to and the customers who helped each other out in the music nerd version of Black Friday. Oh, and thanks to my coworkers who will probably not fully recover until Tuesday.

I kept my RSD purchases to a minimum this year. I grabbed Of Montreal’s 12″ and — of course — My Morning Jacket’s “Circuital” 12″ that was limited to CD Central and Ear X-tacy. A few hours in I talked myself into grabbing Deerhoof’s Friend Opportunity for the translucent green upgrade in the reissue. I was going to grab the Flaming Lips’ box set, but my boss told me we’ll be able to get it again very soon, so I figured I’d leave what we had for customers to mull over. I’d hoped for Cults or the White Stripes seven inch, but no-go on either. We didn’t get any Stripes and I never saw the Cults single, though we did have it.

Leroy DJing between bands

One of the biggest treats of the day was, surprisingly, Leroy’s DJ set. It was a fantastic mix of old 45s, not one of which I recognized. I’m going to beg him to DJ the next time I book a show. And the best part is that his incredible sets always gave way into some of Lexington’s best bands. I pretty much stayed out of the booking process for Record Store Day this year, so I got to be pleasantly surprised with all the great bands we snagged! Unfortunately I only got to see about a song from each band, but they all sounded on top of their game.

And before I turn it over the the photos, I just want to say a big thanks to My Morning Jacket. We asked if they’d be able to play an instore (quite the longshot), they offered the idea of an exclusive 12″ and in-store appearance instead. I’m not sure, but that might actually be the better deal. Not only that, but they were far nicer than you could expect most people to be when signing things and listening to stories for an hour.

As for me, when I found out they’d be doing a bit of signing I printed up a poster of a shot I took at their Bonnaroo 2008 show. It’s currently signed and framed on my wall.

Record Store Day 2011 was a blast. Can’t wait to do it all again next year!

See all the photos after the break.

Continue reading Record Store Day @ CD Central 4.16.11

Drive-By Truckers @ Buster’s 4.9.11

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun.

It might be cliché to start a piece of writing about the Drive-By Truckers with a moment from the American South’s favorite novelist. Yes, DBT is certainly a band obsessed with the past – both literal and imagined – yet they are not stuck within it. Although they draw on tropes associated with “southern rock” (whatever that is), with three guitars and blues-driven extended solos, they are hardly a stockpile of hackneyed images of Confederate flags and “You might be a redneck if…” jokes. Certainly, they are interested in the concept of place: songs such as “Goode’s Field Road” and “Putting People on the Moon” are deeply rooted in specific geography, with complex tales of economic and social struggle. But all in all, the Drive-By Truckers are most interested in offering narratives from the folks who often don’t get to tell their side of the story – such as the recently laid-off protagonist in “Used to Be a Cop” or a surprisingly wise stripper in “Birthday Boy.”

But on top of all that, it’s a rock show, and perhaps a rock show about rock shows, with glory and sweat and release, somewhere between tent revival, exorcism, and three-ring circus. Maybe old Percy Shelley was right indeed: our sweetest songs are often our saddest thoughts.

I’ve been lucky to catch DBT over 20 times. This past weekend’s run of shows at Buster’s here in Lexington showcased a band firing on all cylinders, and rarely have I seen such an enthusiastic crowd, cheering the band to round the bases and slide headfirst into home plate with both grace and abandon. As folks who have been on the DBT ride for a few years now know, the Truckers have been through almost as many lineup changes as they have total albums. While some might still lament not hearing Jason Isbell-era anthems such as “Outfit” or “Dress Blues” (great songs, from a great songwriter with a new solo record due in a few weeks), the newest lineup of the band might be the best in terms of range. The rhythm section of Shonna Tucker and Brad Morgan can turn on a dime; the recent addition of keys wizard Jay Gonzalez adds a layer that connotes classic soul players such as Booker T or Spooner Oldham. John Neff, on pedal steel and guitar, can nail both a Stone-sy groove and that “boom-chicka” riff that made Johnny Cash a star. And, of course, there’s Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley: the professor and the court jester, the reedy tenor and the chest-thrum baritone, the two mainstays of the group who might go down in history as the Jagger/Richards of the American South.

Finish the review/photos after the break

Continue reading Drive-By Truckers @ Buster’s 4.9.11

Trailblazer @ Al’s Bar 3.31.11

In the future, look for reviews of small, local bands in the local section.

Given Trailblazer’s proclivity for dissonance, I figured his live show might be kind of a mess. After most bands are only weirder live, right? And that bit is at least a little true of Coleman’s shows as Trailblazer. His songs are buried under even more distortion. The are not, however, lost in the mix.

MP3: Trailblazer – Mallard

I really, really enjoyed Trailblazer’s set at Al’s Bar last week. It was more distorted than most of his recorded stuff I’ve heard, but he kept the insanity on a tight leash. And really, it was refreshing to see a one man band get to go wild on the guitar. I didn’t really know it until Thursday, but Lexington needed Trailblazer. We’ve got a varied musical community that’s always changing, but there will always be a need for Trailblazer.

More photos after the break.

Continue reading Trailblazer @ Al’s Bar 3.31.11

Heypenny @ Cosmic Charlies 2.19.11

Heypenny were a ton of fun. It’s no surprise that I was really into them midway through my collegiate career. Who would have thought it’d take me nearly five years to see them live?

My real takeaway realization was that Heypenny probably have the record for the longest I’ve ever seen a band keep such a high level of intensity, despite no help from the crowd. Much like Andy D, Heypenny were battling a crowd that was, for the most part, still seated in the back — but they didn’t care. They kept it going on all burners for the whole show. Their bassist was especially a madman. He danced and jumped his way through the whole set. When he knocked the microphone stand out of place, he grabbed it with one hand and played bass with the other, seemingly without missing a note.