Episode 108: Diminishing Returns

Davids 111

Thanks to David Greenwald and Dave Harris (represented here by Liz Phair) for joining us on this week’s show! You can listen above, or download the episode right here.

Topic:

  • Diminishing returns: is inspiration finite?
  • Which formerly great artists lost their creative spark over time? Why does it happen?
  • Which artists that lost their muse returned to greatness later on?
  • Do we perceive the drop-off in quality differently because of former greatness? Would albums that are the result of “diminishing returns” be perceived differently if made by other bands?

Songs:

  • Simon & Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson”
  • Weezer – “Beverly Hills”
  • Horse Feathers – “Violently Wild”
  • Faith No More – “Motherfucker”

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LIVE: Death From Above 1979, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Death From Above 1979

Death From Above 1979 // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

 

By Hollister Dixon

Before we get to the festivities, let’s start with a brief history lesson. In 2001, Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger started a band called Death From Above 1979 in Toronto. In 2004, they released an album called You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, which remains one of the greatest examples of dance-punk to ever come from somewhere that was not DFA Records (a label which forced the band to add the ‘1979’ to avoid confusion). In 2006, after a brief but tumultuous career, the duo broke up, citing creative differences (read: they really fucking hated each other). The members did more than a few things following the demise of DFA1979, including Keeler’s MSTRKRFT (formed in 2005, which contributed remixes of “Sexy Results” and “Little Girl” to DFA1979’s Romance Bloody Romance b-sides/rarities collection) and Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains (more on them in just a little bit).

Death From Above 1979 are proof that any band can reunite and face hordes of adoring fans. In 2011, the band announced that they would reunite, complete with a tour and a new album. Both of these things took time and effort to get off the ground, the latter of which finally appearing as this year’s fantastic The Physical WorldYou’re a Woman, I’m a Machine never had the impact on me that it had on a lot of my peers, but even still, it’s hard to ignore how much that band had – and still has – going for them. They were a band that arrived sounding fully-formed, producing music that sounded simultaneously expertly-crafted, and completely unhinged. Because of this, it would be extremely difficult to pass up the opportunity to see what they could accomplish in a live setting.

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LIVE: Julian Casablancas+The Voidz, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas+The Voidz // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

 

By Jacob Gellman // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

I was skeptical about Julian Casablancas+The Voidz, and perhaps with good reason. Aside from a handful of songs, the Strokes’ side projects have always failed to capture the magic of the original band – two solo albums from Albert Hammond Jr. were underwhelming, while one from Casablancas met critical acclaim but failed to stick with fans.

Here is the golden measuring stick for a famous musician’s side project: in a blind taste test, would you like the music if you didn’t already know the artist’s reputation? Too often have I seen otherwise rational human beings defend a bomb of an album because their favorite musician wrote it.

So in light of the negative reviews for the latest Casablancas album Tyranny, and knowing my own golden rule… I of course refused an invitation to see him live at the Crystal Ballroom. NOT. I nabbed that invite like a dog laps up the food that fell off your plate. Come on, we’re talking about the frontman for the 21st century’s greatest garage rock band.

Connan Mockasin

Connan Mockasin // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

To say that show-opener Connan Mockasin and his backing band were dressed eccentrically is an understatement. All of them wore extremely baggy pants; the backing guitarist was fitted in what looked like pajamas and a fur hat; and Mockasin himself (a.k.a. Connan Tant Hosford) was fully dressed as a farmer. “I know what you’re all thinking,” Hosford drawled to the audience in an American Southern accent, “What’s a farmer like me doing up here?” Bizarre indeed, considering the band hails from New Zealand via London. Knowing nothing about Mockasin, I was completely fooled, until he started to address the audience in his actual Kiwi accent. “Where’s he from?” my companion asked me. “England? Australia?” I replied. Sorry, New Zealanders.

Mockasin is a musician who has made the most of his connections. His music has only once broken charts in New Zealand despite strong reviews for his work, yet he has had the fortune of touring with Radiohead in 2012 and now Julian Casablancas+The Voidz. The band’s confidence is palpable, as Mockasin leads the audience through bird-like call and responses before dropping into smooth psychedelic rock.

Connan Mockasin

Connan Mockasin // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

At the risk of publishing a trite comparison, I can best explain Connan Mockasin’s music as a soulful, funk-folk, modern Pink Floyd. The ingredients are all there: the rhythm guitar picks through psychedelic chords while Mockasin solos high on the neck, choosing either a clean setting or a wah; the synths achieve a vintage organ aesthetic, while the bass explores pentatonic lines.

The band’s control over dynamics is impeccable. Rarely have I seen a group explore quiet space so effectively; songs slow and speed, crescendo and drop to a silence. The anchor is Mockasin’s backing drummer, who often is the last breath in a vacuum of empty space before the band surges to fuller sounds. These songs challenge the audience, but the crowd follows them through these silences, focused in anticipation.

The focal point, of course, is Mockasin’s guitar work. The bulk of the music is devoted to his solos, exploring creative slides and high riffs. The most atmospheric song is their closer, when the rhythm guitarist jumps on keys to deliver an emotive synth part, reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Idioteque” but infused with psychedelia.

If these descriptions sound bizarre, it’s because the music truly is. In a world where bands increasingly call themselves psychedelic, Connan Mockasin stands out as a musician who actually is psychedelic, in the truest sense of the genre.

Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas+The Voidz // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

The secret of the latest Casablancas solo project is that it isn’t a solo project at all. It’s Julian Casablancas+The Voidz. The “backing” band is so important they don’t even put a space between Casablancas, the + sign, and The Voidz. They’re not a touring band; they are the band. And on this night they featured so prominently, I was far more impressed by their musicianship than by Casablancas himself, and you can pin that on their sheer talent as a group. The Voidz’ arrangements on Tyranny form such complex and muddy polyphony, and the music is comprised of such technically difficult instrumental parts, that anything less than perfect would unravel those songs in a heartbeat.

“Father Electricity” is a prime example, a song with little foundation to support the band’s cohesion. Rather than providing a stable drum and bass floor, Jake Bercovici snakes through jazzy bass lines, while Alex Carapetis delivers frantic jungle beats. Add to that two unhinged guitar parts by Amir Yaghmai and Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter, and a band of lesser skill would fall apart a minute in. But not The Voidz. They stop and start on a dime, and even with Beardo’s pained expressions they make it look effortless. While Julian’s voice is a steady baritone presence, the tight and mathematical execution by The Voidz steals the show.

Somehow, I shouldn’t be surprised; Casablancas has never been a frontman that steals the spotlight. On the contrary, the Crystal Ballroom’s lights more prominently featured Beardo and Yaghmai, leaving Casablancas “under cover of darkness” and frustrating our photographer Yousef Hatlani, who faced difficulty snapping images of the singer’s shadowed visage. It didn’t help that Casablancas’s main stage move is to grip the microphone, covering his face with his own fist and his long hair; nor did his tendency to turn away from the audience during musical interludes, flashing his black and red “Houston Basketball” jacket to the crowd.

Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas+The Voidz // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

It may not make for a good photo, but that presence is precisely what I love about Casablancas. During music breaks, he does not dance obnoxiously or steal the show; he is himself. He relishes in the music around him. His voice is not necessarily the focal point of the music, but rather a part of it, a texture to blend with the instruments. Only once does he engage the crowd, when a girl cries out, “Julian!” His response: “Yeeees?”

Rarely am I so moved by a concert. The set featured the last-ever performance of “Instant Crush,” the Daft Punk collaboration with Casablancas, as well as a crowd-pleasing cover of the Strokes’ “Ize of the World.” The band deservedly earned two encores, closing with “Human Sadness,” an emotional rock ballad to cap off a flawless night.

So perhaps I had good reason to doubt the latest Strokes side project. But The Voidz (feat. Julian Casablancas) quickly proved that, given the right mix of musicians, a side project can be so much more.

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Episode 107: Reunited

Colin 255

Thanks as always to Colin McLaughlin for joining us! You can listen above, and download the episode right here.

Topic:

  • Band reunions (revisited)
  • What is the draw of seeing a reunited band live?
  • Is there anything wrong with getting back together for money?
  • Do reunited bands have a duty to make new music, if they stay reunited past a single tour?
  • Who do we still want to reunite?

Songs:

  • Sugarhill Gang – “Rapper’s Delight”
  • Sleater-Kinney – “Bury Our Friends”
  • Pulp – “This is Hardcore”
  • OutKast – “13th Floor/Growing Old”

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LIVE: GWAR, Roseland, Portland, OR

GWAR!!!!!!

GWAR // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

While waiting for GWAR, the 30-year-old Metal institution, to take the stage, I had the following conversation with Yousef Hatlani, my dear cohost:

Yousef: You know you have to get drenched, if this is your first GWAR show.
Me: Fuck that, dude. It’s 38 degrees out right now.

Which is an ugly truth right now. We’re a month away from the beginning of winter, but a bitter, windy cold descended on Portland that day, and even layered up, the 10-minute walk to the Roseland was punishing. The last thing I wanted to do after that performance was walk out at nearly midnight, into that weather, drenched in fake blood and viscera. And yet, two hours later, I emerged from the doors of the Roseland, dazed and drenched in fake blood and viscera. What changed?

The answer: you can’t help but get into the spirit of things at a GWAR show.

It’s a sad truth that this was my very first GWAR show – “Oh shit, I forgot! I guess I’ll catch them next time, they’re not going anywhere” has been my accidental refrain every single time – and the band’s first Portland date since the tragic passing of the band’s frontman/head Scumdog David Brockie (aka Oderus Urungus) in March. Unsurprisingly, Brockie’s death resulted in a very ugly question: “Does this mean the end of GWAR?” And, for most bands, the answer would be “Yes”. But, GWAR isn’t most bands. And so, the band created The Eternal Tour, as a way to send Oderus off in a way that let everyone pay their respects. Brockie’s vocal duties were picked up by the rest of the group, including reinstated vocalist /vocalist Beefcake the Mighty, as well as two new Scumdogs: Blóthar the Berserker (bedecked with several thick pelts, an enormous set of antlers, and – because why not? – udders [which Blóthar referred to as his “bag of dicks”]), and the Scumdog assassin Vulvatron, with incredible blonde dreadlocks and massive blood-squirting breasts. It’s a testament to the importance of Oderus that three people were required to replace him (more, if you count everyone else in the band who performed a song or two), and even though everybody in the room was there to mourn the loss, the reception to Blóthar and Vulvatron was incredible.

The story that unfolds every night of The Eternal Tour is somewhat convoluted, but I’ll attempt to explain: at the top of the show, a projection of the band’s manager, Sleazy P. Martini, appears to ask the question on everybody’s mind: “But what about Oderus?” It turns out, he’s been sucked through a time vortex, to a time without rock. After Blóthar arrives to discover his absence, he decides to help lead GWAR, as well as attempt to manipulate a time machine into bringing back Oderus. In the first “act” of the performance, vocal duties are assumed by Blothar, as well as Bonesnapper (who performed “I, Bonesnapper” and got called a “ninja turtle” by Balsac the Jaws of Death) and Sawborg Destructo (whose giant sawblade arm spewed blood over the front row during “The Private Plan of Sawborg Destructo”), though everyone onstage agrees that neither of them quite fit.

GWAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GWAR // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

Oderus never reappears, but the band does pull three things from their time machine: a future pizza delivery creature (Beefcake the Mighty wanted a pizza!), Oderus’ famed penis, the Cuddlefish of Cthulhu (“He must have mistaken the time portal for a gloryhole! I made the same mistake the first 200 times I saw it,” explains Blóthar), and the aforementioned Vulvatron, who lets the band know that a monster named Mr. Perfect has taken Oderus. In one last-ditch effort, the band attempts to lure him from where he’s been taken with the one thing that he cannot resist: drugs. This is where the show takes an almost absurdly dark turn, as a giant rock labeled “CRACK” appears onstage, as well as a massive pill and a gigantic syringe. It’s hard to imagine another band doing anything like this, especially considering Brockie’s death was chalked up to a heroin overdose, but – again – GWAR is not any other band. Near the end, from the portal, the massive and terrifying Mr. Perfect arrives, to tell everyone that he has stolen Oderus’ immortality and impaled him on his own sword. In an act of revenge, the rest of the band tears Mr. Perfect to pieces and beheads him, leaving him squirting blood from at least four different places. Dejected and leaderless, the band left the stage, only to return to the sound of “O’ Danny Boy”‘s haunting bagpipes, where the band did a rousing version of “The Road Behind”, as well as a cover of “West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, and an updated cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died”. It was an incredibly poignant way to end things, and the crowd lapped up every moment of it.

Though few people will be talking about it, the performance was a testament to the power of both music and comedy as a way to heal. Oderus was the second member of the band to die in the last three years; Flattus Maximus (aka Cory Smoot) was found dead of coronary episode in November of 2011. And yet, against the odds, GWAR have put together a stage show perfectly designed to help the members work through the pain of losing another friend, despite having every reason to simply call it quits. They’ve done their best to soldier on and never lose what makes them a band that breeds the level of intense devotion that they’ve managed to cultivate for 30 years.

It’s hard to really imagine this particular show being any more fun, even considering the purpose of the tour. Despite staying firm that I would avoid any and all blood spray, by the end I was happily getting hit in the face by the cannons of blood being shot into the crowd during “People Who Died”. If you haven’t seen the band perform before, it’s easy to think you might not enjoy things, or that you won’t quite get into the spirit. But GWAR is a band that exudes raw, uncut charisma, and they put on a stage show like absolutely nobody else. The night may not have been as unhinged as it could have been (they abstained from beheading a celebrity, though they did have a beheaded security guard), but it felt right to take things down a notch in honor of their fallen friend. In the end, it would have been an insult to the memory of Oderus to not allow myself to be soaked in blood as much as possible. And, really, my biggest regret is that I didn’t wear a white shirt to the show.

Hail Oderus Urungus, and long live GWAR!

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Episode 106: Late-Night Tales

Jacob 143

Thanks to Jacob Gellman for joining us this week! You can listen above, or download the episode right here.

Topic:

  • Late-night television performances
  • What are some of our favorite performances by bands on late-night talk shows, or Saturday Night Live?
  • Do talk show performances still gain new listeners like they used to?
  • Are those performances still “appointment viewing”?
  • Which shows have the best legacy of musical guests?

Songs:

  • Delay – “Don’t Worry Now”
  • Pavement – “Stereo” (Live on Late Night with Conan O’Brien)
  • Super Furry Animals – “Something 4 the Weekend”
  • Tyler, The Creator – “Sandwitches” (Live on Jimmy Kimmel)

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LIVE: Slowdive, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Slowdive

Slowdive // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

By Hollister Dixon

The relationship between time and music is a very strange one. Given enough time, any band can find their moment in the sun, and build up enough of a fanbase to make a reunion a viable idea; or, as Autumn Andel put it succinctly in her review of Slowdive’s performance: “Only time is the most reliable critic.” In the case of Slowdive, time has been incredibly kind. So, for those who weren’t aware of the band’s past, here’s a quick history lesson: Slowdive began in 1989, got a chance to put out three albums (’91’s Just For a Day, ’93’s Souvlaki, and ’95’s Pygmalion), and got screwed over by their US label (SBK records, who pushed back releases and pulled funding for tours) on several occasions. The records failed to sell, and reviews ranged from saying Souvlaki would “undoubtedly go down in industry history as one of the laziest ever”, to statements like “This record is a soulless void[…] I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again”. The band broke up in 1995, not long after Creation Records dropped them due to Pygmalion failing commercially. Really, I can’t blame them, and it’s a wonder they ever looked back after everything.

That should have been the end. But, thanks to the passage of time, and the invent of the internet, Slowdive found themselves a following. Which is how we get from a failed shoegaze band from Reading to a show-stopping, sold-out show playing behemoths. Though tastes may change, a great record will always be a great record, and a great band will always be a great band. Continue reading

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TWO STATES: Pissed Jeans, Seattle (Barboza) and Portland (Doug Fir)

By Gabriel Mathews (Seattle) and Hollister Dixon (Portland)

Seattle, WA – Barboza, November 1st

Early shows are weird. Especially early punk shows. Neither you nor anyone around you has time to get sufficiently drunk for a show that starts at 7:45 sharp. My Concert-Going Companion and I missed openers Vexx entirely because we were trying to navigate heinous Capitol Hill parking. I was relieved, though, that we made it just in time for Stickers to take the stage.

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LIVE: The Twilight Sad – Twice In Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

The Twilight Sad are a band I’ve loved since I first saw the cover of their debut, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. That particular year, I would download just about anything and everything I could, because I wanted to digest as much as possible, and The Twilight Sad are a band that hit the scene just in time for 16-year-old me to get lost in everything. They’re a band that have never really put their influences on display, as much as they’ve playfully torn those influences apart, making the papier-mache creation almost totally unrecognizable by the end of things. It’s a band with incredibly obtuse song titles like “And She Would Darken the Memory” and “That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy” (a cunning Stand By Me reference). The artwork featured Norman Rockwell-esque portraits of family dissonance, with children in unsettling cloth masks. Their frontman, James Graham, sings in a glorious Scottish accent, the kind only Aidan Moffat dares to sing in. And – oh yeah – they’re really, really fucking loud.

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Photos: Slowdive, Low – Crystal Ballroom, 11/5/14

The Crystal Ballroom was host to one of 2014’s best and most anticipated shows last night when Minnesotan Slowcore legends Low and newly reunited Shoegaze darlings Slowdive played to a capacity crowd, seemingly suspending 1,300 fans – many new and many old – in a dream (for at least a few hours.) From the outset of Slowdive’s performance, it was obvious that their songs not only sounded timeless but also pristine and pointedly affecting, with many attendees recounting how many times they shed a tear over the course of the evening. Suffice it to say, music rarely sounds this good. Find our photos of the evening over on our Facebook page, or click on the photo below.

Slowdive // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Slowdive // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

 

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