LIVE: the Afghan Whigs, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

By Yousef Hatlani

Don’t call it a comeback, but Cincinnati, OH alt-rock mainstays the Afghan Whigs brought their arena-sized rock show to the intimate Doug Fir Lounge yesterday, on the eve of the release of Do to the Beast—the group’s first new album in sixteen years. This dichotomy has been greeted in the past with mixed results; 90’s Irish power poppy trio Ash performed in Portland for the first time in over a decade at the same venue in January and the outcome was less than overwhelming (maybe due to lighter attendance.) The Whigs, however, sold out the 300-some capacity venue and made you believe the space they were playing in was much larger—probably because the spirit of the band and frontman Greg Dulli’s charisma and sincerity really was a bit larger than life.

That said, there was no shortage of talent on stage that night: openers Early Winters featured renowned English vocalist Carina Round, who sings dual lead vocals in the group with frontman Justin Rutledge. Their music can best be described as a sort of Indie Americana, with more of an emphasis on the latter; swelling vocal prowess, tranquil tempos, warmly welcoming delivery and wintry images conjured by the instrumentation. We may officially be in Spring, but Early Winters’ music may as well have been the soundtrack to Portland’s climate lately, never letting go of the cold weather—not to mention being held in high regard by Pink Martini’s China Forbes, who was in the audience. The venue also proved a perfect fit for the quartet (rounded out by Dan Burns and Zac Rae), and one should hope to catch the group next time around in a small venue while they still can.

Following a half hour wait, the Afghan Whigs tread onto the darkened stage and launched into new album opener “Parked Outside:—amidst a stage show noticeably amped up from Doug Fir’s usual jaunt, introducing more lights & smoke than the venue typically has. They even had a well-appointed silky rug comprising the backdrop for the performance. The sound quality, crowd energy and musicianship were all on high gear, with each of the eight new songs incorporated into the set showcasing the wonderfully diverse flourishes Dulli continues to utilize in his music—everything from Middle Eastern, Funk and especially R&B sounds were present throughout the set, all laid behind the frontman’s distinctive and gracefully gruff vocals and grinding guitars. The band also ran through crucial cuts like “Gentleman,” “I’m Her Slave” and “Somethin’ Hot,” among others.

Spoiler! The Afghan Whigs' set list last night. No other photography was permitted during the night.  Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani

Spoiler! The Afghan Whigs’ set list last night. No other photography was permitted during the set.
Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani.

Perhaps the most endearing moment of the night, aside from the multiple times Greg Dulli stood on top of the stage monitors and happily interacted with the crowd, came before the encore: sinister new waltz-y crooner “Lost in the Woods” concluded the group’s initial set, but not before they incorporated the full last verse and chorus of the Beatles’ classic “Getting Better” as a new ending to the song, eliciting a mesmerizing sing-along with the sold out crowd that couldn’t have fit more perfectly. “I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better / a little better, all the time,” Dulli sang, as the audience filled in correctly with “It couldn’t get much worse!” One couldn’t help but feel Dulli’s honesty when he exclaimed “Man I was mean, but I’m changing my scene / And I’m doing the best that I can.”

Although their set did not actually end there (the band came back on for a four song encore,) it was still one of the most perfectly orchestrated endings to a show I’ve seen this year—perhaps reminding us that the band’s appeal never really fell from grace, and that the already warmly received Do to the Beast simply marks a new chapter in the band’s outstanding catalog.

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Episode 77: No Kind of Rider


Thanks to Rochelle Hunter (Doug Fir Lounge) and Tony Prato (Bunk Bar) for joining us this week! Listen above, download here.

Topic:

  • A Day in the Life of a Venue Employee, Part I: Production Managers
  • What does “production” entail?
  • How much does the job vary between venues?
  • What have been some of the best interactions with musicians?

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Episode 77: Teen Spirit


Thanks to Mayhaw Hoons for joining us on the show this week! Listen above, download here.

Topic:

  • Kurt Cobain: 20 years passed
  • What impact did Nirvana have on our lives?
  • Why did Nirvana break in the way that they did?
  • Would music be the same if the band had never existed?
  • Where would the band end up if Cobain didn’t die?

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LIVE: The National, The Shrine, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

The Shrine Auditorium is a large, Schintz-­like venue located on USC’s sprawling campus south of Downtown Los Angeles. This means I had to drop a twenty dollar “contribution” to use the University’s incredibly crowded parking structure. That was a letdown.

You know what wasn’t a letdown, though? Mistaken For Strangers, the now­ in­ theaters movie about the National made by frontman Matt Berninger’s little brother Tom, which was screened as the opener for this show. I’m no film critic, especially when it comes to documentaries, especially especially when it’s unclear how much of what’s documented was “real.” I will say, though, that the film was utterly hilarious, moving, and endlessly charming. Tom is a real winner of a character, or at least the version of himself he chooses to show us is, and the band comes off as a group of lovable goofballs. The main takeaway point here is that, for those of you who think of the National as a super self­ serious, dour, no-­fun0-­zone type of band, check out this movie (Not to mention their hilarious videos for “Conversation 16,” “Graceless,” “Sea Of Love,” Bob’s Burgers… I could go on.) Also, for those of you entirely unfamiliar with the National, check out this movie. And, like, all of their recorded output.

The band took stage about half ­an ­hour after the end of the film. Sitting in the I-­got-to-Ticketmaster­-a-little-­late seats, it was plain to see that the National really are a major band, in the sense that I was surrounded by middle-­aged moms, finance bros, and everyone in between, and they all knew the words. Six albums in, the Brooklyn-­by­-way-­of­-Cincinnati band is finally an American institution.

If there was previously any doubt, their opening run proved that they fully deserve the acclaim. Not many bands could pull off a run like “Don’t Swallow The Cap” followed by “I Should Live In Salt” followed by “Mistaken For Strangers” followed by “Sea Of Love” followed by “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and still play for another un­padded hour. It was clear the National realized this, resting on their laurels a bit with the pristine “Hard To Find” after that five­star streak.

I couldn’t really see a whole lot from my vantage point, but as far as I could tell, everyone in the band was in fine form. Bryce Dessner pulled a fun stunt during the otherwise sedate “I Need My Girl” by taking a second guitar by the butt and tapping it’s headstock on the ground for a nice clang every once in a while. His twin brother Aaron bounced back and forth between guitar and piano with ease. Matt Berninger’s voice has notably improved over the past few years as he’s quit smoking. His other favorite habit still remains something of a problem though—about halfway through the set, the band started up oldie “All The Wine” to great fanfare, only for Matt to mess up the meter two lines in, throwing a beat between “Big wet bottle in my fist / Big wet rose in my teeth” where this is none. They tried again, but he made the same mistake in the same place, and called the song off. “It wasn’t me, it was the six of them who fucked up, I’m pretty sure,” he quipped, right as the band launched into the triumphant Alligator cut “Abel”. Maybe try just half a bottle of wine per show, Matt?

One of the National’s greatest strengths is subtly upping the ante over the course of a song with slight tonal shifts. Live, it’s ever more clear that drummer Bryan Devendorf is the man most responsible for this trick, his endlessly impressive and expressive playing being as much a focal point as Matt’s singing. His skills shone most bright as he effectively led the band through extended outros on “Squalor Victoria” and “Humiliation.” As Matt wanders the stage moving his hands awkwardly during instrumental passages, you feel it’s Bryan who really takes the reins.

Early on, Matt dedicated “I Should Live In Salt” to his newly­-beloved brother — “He thinks this song is about salt. You should know it’s about you, Tom.” He later upped the cuteness factor by dedicating “I Need My Girl” to his wife, Carin Besser (Alligator‘s Karen, though it’s pronounced “Corinne,” who knew?), who helped Tom edit the movie and holds an executive producer credit along with both Berningers. Naturally, the band hit all of their LA references with “Humiliation,” “England,” and the stellar “Pink Rabbits” all eliciting major cheers.

While there are certain songs I would’ve loved to hear and didn’t (“Conversation 16,” guys?), and while their back catalog was criminally underrepresented (two songs from Alligator, four from Boxer, nothing from the first two or Cherry Tree), I can’t say there’s anything I wish they hadn’t played, which is yet another testament to the depth of this band’s oeuvre. The one thing I did really feel the lack of was multi-­instrumentalist Padma Newsome, whose violin shredding was the highlight of the show I caught at the Crystal back on the Boxer tour. That and front row seats.

Though the Dessner brothers kept trying to get the crowd clapping along to little avail (we just wanted to listen), the most thrilling bit of crowd interaction outside of Matt’s obligatory aisle ­walk during “Mr. November” was hinted at during “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” as the band dropped out for a bar or two and I could hear the entire auditorium singing “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees.” The National emphasized this second voice on “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” which has replaced “About Today” as their standard set closer in recent years. This rendition found them totally unplugged, with minimal miking on two acoustic guitars, the horns, and some minimal percussion. I’ve never loved “Vanderlyle,” but this campfire singalong had me rapt. By the end, Matt had flailed too enthusiastically and knocked over his microphone, and all you could hear was the entire Shrine, explaining it all to the geeks.

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Episode 76: All Ages


Thanks to Cary Clarke and John Rau for stopping in this week! You can listen above, and download the episode here.

Topic:

  • All-Ages spaces in Portland
  • Why is there such a lack of all-ages spaces in our city?
  • What are our histories with these spaces?
  • What can be done to make these spaces more prevalent?
  • What stands in the way of achieving that?

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LIVE: St. Vincent, The Grammy Museum, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

I feel like I start all of these reviews with some variant on “I didn’t know what to expect…” But I really didn’t know what to expect out of St. Vincent’s appearance at The Grammy Museum the other night. Having bought and then sold a crappy mezzanine ticket to her show at the Wiltern the following night, I was super excited to learn that she was doing something else in town, and snapped up a ticket right away, not knowing what I was getting myself into. It was only on the day of the show that I looked up the program for the evening—because what kind of show happens at The Grammy Museum?—and learned that her “performance” would be preceded by an interview with museum director Bob Santelli and a brief audience Q&A. As I pulled into L.A. Live (LA’s Times Square, but lame!) I wondered what this “performance” would consist of. Would Annie Clark have a band with her? Would she play more than three songs? Would this essentially just be promo for her new fourth record, St. Vincent? As I found out, the more salient question was: What would this interview be like?

The answer, in short, is “terrible.” Santelli seemed like a decent enough guy, who had listened to the music and really appreciated it, but goddamn, was he a shitty interviewer. Clark, her hair faded down to a basic platinum from the awesome purple gray adorning the new record’s cover, did her level best to answer his questions with honesty and humor, but the guy really didn’t give her much to work with. Here’s a paraphrased transcript of the kind of tripe I’m talking about:

Santelli: So, you’re a woman making music. That didn’t really happen much until the nineties, when you were an impressionable teenager. What’s up with that?
Clark: Umm… I mean, there were women making music for a long time before that. Like Nina Simone and Buddy Guy’s guitarists and so on. So, uh, yeah. Sleater- ­Kinney? Pass.
S: Sweet! As a consummate guitarist yourself, you must have some favorites, right? Who are they?
C: Um, I mean, yeah, there are a lot. Jimi Hendrix is pretty great.
S: He sure is! The song “Rattlesnake,” wow. Can you tell us where that came from? What are the lyrics about?
C: [Tells already ubiquitous "Rattlesnake" story, which Santelli has surely already heard.] Ha! So I just really didn’t even have to use my imagination for that one.
S: Gee whiz. You’re just so creative! As a music critic, who might hear things in records that the average fan might not be picking up on, I can really say that this album has a lot of, uh, “twists and turns” on it. Where does that come from?
C: I’m restless, I guess! I get bored easily [Hint hint.]
S: Wow. Yeah. Restless! For sure! So, what’s your creative process like?
C: [Blasé answer to blasé question.]
S: You grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then Texas! How did that inform your work?
C: Well, I guess growing up there informed who I am as a person, and so, by the transitive property, my music, as well. Right?
S: Oh, man, for sure!

This went on for something like an hour. The one saving grace of the interview portion of the night, which I didn’t even realize until later when reviewing lyrics, was when Clark deliberately seemed to troll Santelli and the rest of us by explaining that “Huey Newton” was about an Ambien­-induced encounter with the deceased Black Panther founder, during which she learned that the two of them “really got each other, maaannnn.” In retrospect, this was even funnier than it was at the time (Check the lyrics, maaannnn). The Q&A was far more amusing, with the guy who’d been in line since 9 AM asking about some rare bootlegs Clark made at 20, and then spazzy dude who’d seen her in San Diego the night before and was seeing her the night after at the Wiltern geeking the fuck out about her guitar’s fuzz tone (It’s really complicated, guys). Then there was the dude asking, “So, uh, you’re a hard worker, obviously, but, uh, do you, uh, date ever? Cause, uh, I’m free later, ya know.” Poised as always, Clark staved the question off admirably, with “Yeah, I work hard but, I mean, I’m human.”

She then proceeded to demonstrate just how beyond human she can actually seem with a full­band set culled entirely from the new record. The weird corporate seminar ­oriented auditorium made for an odd venue, but it certainly aided the acoustics. And Clark’s shredding deserves it. I’ve seen her in three previous iterations, all very different from this one. Once, after the release of her first record Marry Me, she played solo opening for The National, and was transfixing. Next, with a large band at Sasquatch!, supporting Actor, again transfixing. The third time was at the Greek Bowl, with David Byrne in support of their collaborative record Love This Giant, which was also pretty transfixing, even from the cheap seats. This time around she was just as transfixing in close quarters, but in a whole different way. Clark’s onstage demeanor for this tour is entirely cold and affectless — she had the choreographer of the Love This Giant tour work out her dance moves, which are robotic and somewhat disturbing, but quite familiar to anyone who’s watched her recent TV performances or who caught LTG. The choreography is fun, with some very entertaining hand gestures, but unfortunately it keeps her from doing her signature duck walk. Her band is made up of consummate professionals, whose workmanlike efforts pay off on compositions this complex. But it’s not the rigidity of the dancing or the band that make the show here, it’s the freakishness of Clark’s guitar playing. This woman is a master­class virtuoso of the instrument, and her extended solos at the end of “Rattlesnake” and “Every Tear Disappears” were well­deserved and completely necessary. She treats her instrument like an animal or something, the sounds she produces are outside of anything else ever. The full band thrash sesh for the second half of “Huey Newton” was incredible, and “Bring Me Your Loves” made an excellent closer, with Clark’s dramatic vocals on the chorus being doubled beneath her at least two octaves down.

The set was not as long as I’d have liked, but it did cover most of the new record, if nothing else. I would have really loved some Strange Mercy material (my favorite of her albums, I’ve only seen a few of it’s songs performed live as part of LTG), but this was a pretty sweet deal for what could have been a shit promo event. If only she’d been given half of Santelli’s interview time to shred the fuck out, we’d have had ourselves a truly great time.

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Episode 75: METAL!!


Thanks to Nate Carson for joining us! You can listen above, and download it here.

Topic:

  • METAL!!
  • What does metal look and sound like? What isn’t metal?
  • Where did we start with the genre?
  • What are the different subgenres of metal?

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LIVE: Perfect Pussy, The Bootleg, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

Having already seen Perfect Pussy pretty recently, I needed to come up with reasons to do so again. It wasn’t hard: in the intervening months, the band’s profile has expanded exponentially. Their full-­length debut, Say Yes To Love, came out the day before this show. It would be an opportunity to see them at a real venue, on a stage, as opposed to the floor of a DIY garage space with no PA (It’s worth noting that they played that same garage venue again the night after the Bootleg show. Punks for life). And plus they’re just an awesome live act and so why the fuck not?

The last time I saw a show at the Bootleg was four years ago, the first time I caught Titus Andronicus. That was a truly life­ changing experience, a night full of narrative ups and downs, and I went into this show hoping for something similar. The Bootleg has a few different rooms, however—when I caught TA, it was in the more traditional venue space, as opposed to this show, taking place in the theater, which is typically used by the multi­ purpose establishment for putting on plays.

After watching a bit of Big Trouble in Little China projected onto a wall, my Concert Going Companions and I moved into the other room. I wished I’d waited. Big Swamp Thunder are a perfect illustration of a really unfortunate phenomenon in music at the moment. Consisting of one shirtless dude flailing his fingers on a bass and one dude in a shirt triggering drum tracks and bellowing, BST are a noise act who seem to exist purely for shock value (and their own amusement). The problem is that nothing they did is shocking anymore. Yes, at one point, this vaguely ­structured noise, played so physically and violently was novel and thrilling. But that point was about thirty years ago. Back then, it wasn’t important whether the music was actually good or not, just that the conventions were being broken, the boundaries were being pushed. If you’re going to make this kind of music now, you have to do it well. You can’t simply coast on a wild stage presence and excessive volume. Watching these guys, I had to wonder who decided that they merited a slot on the bill, or any bill, and based on what criteria. When the only melodic element to your music is a guy who is basically doing what Flea does but with vastly less talent, you should really reconsider what it is you’re going for.

The second act fared significantly better. G. Green is a shaggy pop ­punk act from Sacramento, who played a fun set of pleasantly loose songs. I can’t say anything they did was super thrilling, but drummer Liz Liles anchored the band with some serious pummeling, and guitarist Mike Morales snuck in some of the weird funkiness of his other band, Baus, who I caught and loved a couple weeks ago at Pehr:space. Both of these bands are definitely worth checking out.

Stoic Violence, who opened for Perfect Pussy the last time they came through town, benefitted in an odd way from the theatrical setting: in a black box theater, their throwback leatherhead hardcore felt elevated to the level of performance art, in spite the utterly sincere 80′s meathead haircut of the frontman. This set wasn’t quite as fun as the last time I saw them, though, simply because said frontman didn’t spend half their set bleeding from the face.

One song in, Perfect Pussy frontwoman Meredith Graves made a half­ audible apology. “We’re trying so, so hard, really. I’m just so fucking sick.” Apparently afflicted by a bad sinus infection (I can relate), Graves was big less energetic this time around, and she seemed to be shouting a bit more quietly than usual. I say “seemed” because, contrary to my expectations, the existence of an actual PA and an actual soundman didn’t do much to improve Perfect Pussy’s live intelligibility. While guitarist Ray McAndrew didn’t sound like he was playing out of a cardboard box this time around, Graves’ vocals were perhaps even more buried than at their E. 7th Street show, when she sang through a guitar amp. Plus, layered atop the songs was so much feedback and deliberate noise generated by keyboardist Shaun Sutkus that even recognizing the fact that these were individual songs, as opposed to several distinct two­ minute blocks of noise, was difficult. The only songs I could actually pick out and point to as one I knew were “I,” off of last year’s amazing demo I have lost all desire for feeling, and “Interference Fits,” which should have been easy to spot due to it’s relatively subdued sound, but which I only recognized halfway through when the band dropped out for a split second and Graves shouted “SINCE WHEN DO WE SAY YES TO LOVE?”

I understand that it’s part of Perfect Pussy’s deal to be cloaked in earsplitting noise at all times, and that Graves’ lyrics are unintelligible by design. I understand that all of this is part of the thrill of seeing them live. But, having bought and listened to Say Yes To Love after the show, I feel these songs, their words, their melodic underpinnings, deserve better. One of the best and most interesting things about Perfect Pussy on record is the audible struggle between tunefulness and noise, between clarity and obfuscation. It’s this contrast that makes them stand out. At the Bootleg, the latter elements dominated so completely that anyone who hadn’t heard their records would leave with no real incentive to do so.

All of that being said, I had an excellent time for the 20­ (at ­most) minutes PP took the stage. The crowd wasn’t full of super stoked kids like at E. 7th, but the eight or so dudes in the pit were all fully committed to maintaining the exact right violence­to­pain ratio, and I left the show exhilarated. Walking out of the pit, I encountered one of my CGCs, who said “Well, that was dumb.” I agreed, grinning. Dumb, yes, sure. But also a fucking blast.

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Interview: Nils Frahm at Mississippi Studios


We couldn’t have been happier for the opportunity to sit down with the amazing Nils Frahm prior to his show at Mississippi Studios last night in support of his thrilling latest effort, Spacesa dynamic, immersive live album that cherry picks some of his best performances over the course of the last two years. Our very own Yousef Hatlani sat down with the internationally acclaimed German musician, composer and producer and covered the creative process (a particular favorite subject of his,) his favorite composers and music from a myriad of genres, his artistic growth and even his love of Fred Meyer. Stream this special feature (the very first of its kind for this podcast) above, or download it right here – and don’t forget to check out Yousef’s complete set of photos on our Facebook site.

Nils Frahm in the Mississippi Studios green room, March 19th, 2014. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.

Nils Frahm in the Mississippi Studios green room, March 19th, 2014.
Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani.

“I think the first rock band I appreciated, when I was 16 or 17, was Kid A when it came out…I was impressed by [Radiohead] from the first time I listened to that record—because it sounded raw and kind of different, but also really solid and really powerful and beautiful at the same time. Before that, I was going for productions which were more glossy sounding…and then when Radiohead came out, I was intrigued by the edgy, more distorted sounds and interesting, colored tones. That was definitely a turning point.”

Nils Frahm at Mississippi Studios, 03/19/'14 Photo by Yousef Hatlani.

Nils Frahm at Mississippi Studios, 03/19/’14
Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani.

“I think me making music wasn’t about a certain record. It was more about trying to find material I could express myself creatively which was not photography and not painting—these were the other things I wanted to do first. But I was playing piano since very early; I started when I was 4 or 5 to just fiddle on the piano a little bit. I think the turning point was when I stopped Classical lessons, when I was 13, and started playing in a band with my classmates.”

Nils Frahm at Mississippi Studios, 03/19/'14. Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Nils Frahm at Mississippi Studios, 03/19/’14.
Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani

“I’ve always liked Fred Meyers! (laughs) I don’t know why. It’s just a great, convenient supermarket. They have everything…they have my favorite cheap iron pans. I’m always stocked up on gear from Fred Meyers.”

Nils Frahm is currently touring the United States with Douglas Dare through March. Spaces is available via Erased Tapes now.

Episode 74: Funny People


Many thanks to Amy Miller and Danny Felts for joining us on this week’s episode! Listen above, download here.

Topic:

  • Comedy!
  • Where did we start in the world of comedy?
  • Do some comedians release albums prematurely?
  • Is it possible to really “teach” someone to do stand-up?

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