Tag Archives: California

LIVE: La Femme, The Echoplex, Los Angeles, CA

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La Femme // Photo Credit: Henry Smith

By Henry Smith

The “up-and-coming” status of Echo Park has The Echo and The Echoplex to thank.  Between the two busy venues and their next door neighbor, Origami Vinyl, Echo Park has a fresh hub for music.  The larger Echoplex is located directly beneath The Echo and is only accessible through an alley off of Glendale Boulevard.  I had had a few beers and was unaware of this Hogwarts entrance.  Amblingaround the block again and again, I finally saw a man wearing an Echoplex polo.
“Hey, excuse me,” I asked him, “Where is The Echoplex?”
“It’s right here,” he laughed, “You’re here for La Femme?”  I nodded quickly and hustled in.  As soon as I made it through the entrance, I realized what all the hype was about.  The space was decked out to entertain with a sizable stage, a deep floor with two bars, and plenty of standing tables scattered about.  This was the perfect place to present the mysterious, synth-surf Frenchies, La Femme.

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LIVE: Pinback, El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, CA

By Henry Smith

We were running late. We had just flown off of Beverly Boulevard and onto Highland Avenue. Reasonably zipping through yellow lights, our chance to arrive early to the Pinback show had been blown. This was going to be a special show considering 2014 marks the ten year anniversary of the band’s third record, Summer in Abaddon. To celebrate the album’s decade of life, Pinback hit the road playing the whole thing front to back. This was the second to last show before the band closed the tour in their hometown of San Diego. Finally locating a bare stretch of curb on South Burnside Avenue, my roommates and I bickered over whether we had just found a valid parking spot as the clock struck 9:05 PM – five minutes into Tera Melos’ supporting set at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.

“If I get a ticket, we split it, alright?” My roommate, Andrew, needed a little security before leaving his Beamer parked where it was. The “NO PARKING” signs were left indecipherable, like most are in West LA. After a couple seconds of sheepish silence, my other roommate, Lucas and I begrudgingly agreed that we would share the burden. We left the BMW to its own devices and hustled over to the El Rey’s main entrance on Wilshire Boulevard.

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LIVE: 13 Torches For A Burn, Los Globos, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

What better way to wrap up my stint as an Angeleno than a two-­day Danish punk festival in an old church in the neighborhood I have the most ties to? This event, a grammatically dubbed 13 Torches for a Burn, was to be a once-­in-­a-­lifetime type of thing, an “Only in LA” type of thing, something I’d inevitably regret missing. And for only twenty bucks, there was no way I was turning it down. Danish label Posh Isolation had come together with The Church on York, as well as sponsors at Part Time Punks and E. 7th Street Punx to put on the show every Iceage fan has ever dreamed of—let’s get this whole crazy inbred Copenhagen scene to perform together, in one place, at one time, for a reasonable price. Let’s give the Americans what they want, so long as they’re in that desolate capital of cross­bred culture that is Los Angeles. It was such an excellent idea that my best friend and this show’s CGC flew out from New York basically just for it.

And then, as it had to, LA happened. We were all set to go into Day 1 at the Church, grabbing beers at a nearby bar when an acquaintance also attending drove past the window, saw us, and shouted, “CANCELED! SEE YOU TOMORROW AT LOS GLOBOS!” Upon investigation, we learned that, as we should have expected, the Church’s pretty­-much-­illegal doings had caught up to them (this kind of venue can’t exist in this kind of city) and the fire marshall had decided 13 Torches was a good time to crack down. The well-connected folks at the Church, though, had hit up their friends over at Los Globos and secured the club’s two upstairs rooms for an all­nighter the following evening. So what we had on our hands was the same show, all in one go, in a red-vinyl-and­-mirrors vampire den as opposed to the gloriously reverby rafters of an old Mexican worship­ house.

In an odd way, Los Globos seemed equally-­if­-differently appropriate to host this lineup. Iceage, Lower, Sexdrome, Lust For Youth, Puce Mary and the rest of the Posh Isolation crew only make sense in a few places, and the terrifyingly dark, low-­ceilinged Los Globos is one of them. When CGC and I showed up promptly at 5:00, we were blinded by the black, stultifying atmosphere of the place. That Sejr then immediately took the stage felt inevitable. With Iceage bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless on guitar, Iceage drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen, Communions’ guitarist on bass, and a dude from Redflesh screaming, Sejr set the bar high for cross­band pollination. Their black metal stylings were especially notable for not actually deviating much from the Iceage template aside from the extreme voice shredding of Redflesh guy and the unceasingly breakneck pace. Their quick set was an excellently evil way to start the evening.

Opening the smaller room was Deeplands, the first in a string of electronic acts that just failed to hold my attention the way the guitar bands in the other room were doing. Over the course of the night, we dropped into the small room for a few seconds of Age Coin and Croatian Amor, but nothing was interesting enough to make the heat bearable.

(Oh, that’s right, LA is really hot this time of year. Especially in crowded rooms full of sweaty punks who, as we soon discovered, were not allowed to leave the space for eight hours. I can’t say I’ve experienced a very different culture in Portland or anywhere else, but strict no-­ins-­and-­outs policies are a really Medieval form of torture. What is the venue gaining by holding their audiences captive? I suppose I felt an interesting sense of community build with this crowd of misfits in black, a feeling that can only come from being stuck in a room with the same group of people over the course of several hours, one reminiscent of high school grad night or a very long flight. And while we thought we were going to starve, it turns out Los Globos makes a serviceable-­if-­overpriced chicken sandwich. But, seriously, guys, this shit is not cool.)

Marching Church ended up being one of my favorite things to happen over the course of the night. True to the incestual nature of the scene, Marching Church featured members of Lower, Hand of Dust, Puce Mary, and, most importantly, Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. Upon climbing onstage Rønnenfelt donned a silk dressing gown and proceeded to channel some rock­-god hybrid of Iggy Pop and Nick Cave for one of the least Iceage-­like performances I’ve ever seen. In his main band, Rønnenfelt tends to stalk the stage menacingly, one hand clenched behind his back. Marching Church apparently gives him an outlet for his more romantic tendencies, as he sang weepy love songs reminiscent of twisted 80s power ballads, made tear­-streak gestures down his face, and stretched his voice painfully into some high notes you’d never hear on an Iceage song. The result was transfixing, as Rønnenfelt sang about secret loves at the dark end of the street with a whole different kind of conviction than I’m used to seeing from him. He should wear that robe more often.

Marching Church’s frontman took the mic for Hand Of Dust, who injected some much­ appreciated melodicism into the proceedings. They basically played some straight­ forward hard rock, but the chugging guitar followed a musical thread most of these bands opted not to pick up on. I would say keep an eye on this one, but Posh Isolation bands have such a habit of breaking up (Notably, Iceage/Sexdrome/Lust For Youth project Vår are no more after one critically­-lauded album) that I don’t know if it’s worth it.

Speaking of bands playing breaking up and playing their last shows ever, Sexdrome came across as the evening’s last­-gasp saviors. The super tall guy in the turtleneck and chains who’d been making bouncy electro earlier as Croatian Amor and whose name is Loke Rahbek and who actually runs Posh Isolation and who would take the stage a third time later as Lust For Youth stepped up, took off all his shirts, and adopted a permanent scowl so exaggerated as to be humorous. He then proceeded to lead his band through an incredibly badass set of straight-­up hardcore with a black metal edge so sharp it could saw bones. Sexdrome have a reputation for being a more violent Iceage, who have a reputation for leaving people bloody at most of their shows. While I didn’t see any blood, it wasn’t for lack of effort on Rahbek’s part. He hurled himself into the crowd, wrapped himself in the mic cord, grabbed at anyone near him, got my CGC in a headlock. This was incendiary stuff that seemed to make the lights black out all on its own (For future reference, moshing in the dark is a scary but amazing thing to do). It’s a shame Sexdrome will no longer be around, and I’m thrilled to have seen the end of it.

One of two small­ room acts I feel compelled to write about is Puce Mary, aka Frederikke Hoffmeier, a gorgeous Nordic woman who makes some of the most excruciating music I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. While I could only stand to be in the room for a total of about three minutes (the heat played a big part here), I was thoroughly impressed by the noises Hoffmeier was creating, which were sort of reminiscent of the three minutes I’ve ever been able to listen to of Pharmakon, but louder. She also wins best band name of the night by a landslide.

Back in the big room, the energy felt depleted. We’d already been locked in Los Globos for about six hours and it seemed unlikely that anyone would recover the fury they’d spent on Sexdrome. Luckily for us all, a little band called Communions were setting up. To see them, in their oh­-so­-Danish haircuts and 80s schoolboy outfits, these four really really young men looked like mini-­Iceage, and having never heard them before, CGC and I expected that’s what they’d be musically as well. Instead we got a vital injection of some of the most impressive guitar pop I’ve heard in a long time. These guys had to be like sixteen years old (with the exception of their sort of scary drummer, who was maybe nineteen) but they’ve clearly spent most of those years ingesting every single bit of excellent songwriting there is to be had in this world and practicing their guitars all the while. Seriously, think of any little songwriting trick in the book—the well­-timed drum fill, the perfect key change, the two­bar breakdown—Communions pulled it off perfectly. Their two guitarists are wizards, sometimes reminding me of a much less boring Martin Courtney/Matt Mondanile hydra. The singer, who looked even younger than the rest of them, had a beautiful Danish choirboy thing going on, hitting high notes but somehow still bellowing all the while. I should also note that it was during Communions’ set that I finally realized all these bands had brought one drum kit and maybe two basses and two guitars to share between them. I though that was awesome—if one thing was clear about the Copenhagen crew, it’s that they really all care about each other, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Waiting for the next act to go on, the drunk girl who’d been lying on the floor giggling came over and plopped herself down next to me. “Whenza next bandgo on?” “Um, soon, I think.” “Who is it?” “Lower.” “What kinda musicdthey make?” “… punk, I guess?” “Are we gonna dance?!” “I don’t know, I guess we’ll see.” She then flew off as fast as she’s arrived, only to return a minute later. “My friend says theydonwanus to dance. Are we gonna dance anyway?”

It turned out to be a relevant question. Lower were the big surprise of the night, for me, but not necessarily in a good way. After the skull­crushing force of their debut EP Walk On Heads, I was expecting another slaughterhouse. But the moshing for the set was limited to a handful of diehards who tried very earnestly to make music this slow work for slamming. The first sign of trouble was when pudgy frontman Adrian Toubro took the stage in an unbuttoned shirt and a bucket hat (“He’s easily the least glamorous person here,” said CGC). Lower then hit us with all new material, excluding their one semi­hit “Craver,” and it was kind of weird. While I basically enjoyed the music, which sounds like Walk On Heads filtered through both Unknown Pleasures and Power, Corruption, and Lies, it was Toubro’s stage presence that really threw me off. The bucket hat was only phase one of his borrowing from another Manchester icon, Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder, as he spent the whole set strutting stupidly around stage and making silly hand gestures. It almost felt like a bad hip hop performance thrown into the middle of a very white, very Danish punk fest. It also didn’t help that Toubro accompanied his literal finger­ wagging with a lot of lyrical remonstration as well. The snatches I could pick out generally seemed to be berating the fashion­-oriented and image-0-centric among us in really obvious, inelegant ways. Lower’s debut full-­length Seek Warmer Climes comes out next month and I don’t know if I’m excited anymore.

The other small­room band I feel compelled to mention is Girlseeker, which featured members of Sexdrome and Lower playing goofy synth/guitar jams with titles like “Lonesome and Handsome.” Maybe it was the heat, and maybe it was eight hours of very posh isolation, but I found myself bombarded by some of the most hysterically difficult music I’ve ever heard. Most of the set seemed to be everyone soloing at once over a synthetic beat, but this effect might have been created simply because the guitar and the keyboards were all made to sound almost identical. In my delirium, I couldn’t stop laughing.

Iceage, of course, are no laughing matter. The last time I saw them, at Filter Magazine’s Culture Collide®, their set was cut woefully short by some sort of problem with guitarist Johan Surballe Wieth’s pedalboard. This set was to be that one’s redemption, in my eyes. Plus, they were really the reason everyone was here, if we’re being honest. Iceage are about ten times bigger than any of the other bands in the lineup, and they know it. They were also capping off one of the most intense concert experiences I imagine most of this audience had ever been to, with only Lust For Youth playing after them, and you’d imagine this would hold them to some level of rigor and crowd­-pleasing.

But, no, Iceage are beholden to no one. Taking the stage, they launched into one new song after another. This isn’t a bad thing—the new songs show an evolving band, playing around with slower tempos, longer songs, and a fun Spaghetti Western/cow­punk feel. You’re Nothing was a bit step up from New Brigade, and these songs indicate that whatever comes next will continue the same trajectory. Plus, these songs were not unfriendly to moshing, and everyone went about as hard as they’d gone for Sexdrome, with Elias Bender Rønnenfelt carrying over some of the rock­god energy from his Marching Church set into a less-evil-but-no-less-violent-than-usual Iceage performance. The problem, though, with these songs is that there were only four of them. Towards the end of the final song, the guitar seemed to stop. The rest of the band finished the song, and everyone promptly left the stage. At Culture Collide when the guitar crapped out, there was at least some attempt to fix it, a few false re­starts, and a half­-apology from Rønnenfelt. No such luck this time, which is okay, I guess, but this time they were headlining the fest that was supposed to be representing the scene of which they are kings. You’d hope they’d sort of acknowledge that kind of thing and think of themselves as ambassadors.

That said, the four songs we got were incredible, and after the set I found myself tearing my sweat­-drenched shirt to pieces, downing an abandoned piña colada, and storming out of the venue, so it must have been a good time.

Though it wasn’t perfect, things like 13 Torches for a Burn are a huge check in the cons column of leaving LA. There’s something about this city, like most big cities, that makes entirely unique events possible. While my “only in LA” remark above was somewhat tongue-­in-­cheek, It’s also true that this would never have happened in Portland, where I’m from, or in Seattle, where I’m headed. LA is what allowed me to see Bon Iver in a cemetery at sunrise after being blessed by Buddhist monks and staying up all night watching Bottle Rocket and Planet Earth. LA allowed me to see Dirty Projectors perform the unperformable Getty Address, with a 10-­piece ensemble, with the LA Philharmonic opening, at the Disney Concert Hall. Something about this town attracts a degree of specialness, it ups the ante. Even a deeply flawed event like Culture Collide had positives that I can’t imagine happening elsewhere—other cities don’t have the clout or the outsized ambition to bring over a hundred bands from around the world to once stretch of road. I’m thrilled that 13 Torches, my final LA show, was such an LA show.

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LIVE: Hamilton Leithauser, Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

So here we are, The Walkmen, one of biggest deals of the past fifteen years of indie rock, seem to basically have called it quits with an “extreme hiatus.” Three of the band’s members are putting out solo material sometime soon, but there’s only one anyone is likely to care much about— that would be frontman Hamilton Leithauser. Leithauser’s nasal yawping was probably The Walkmen’s most defining characteristic. His furious shouting on early records (see: “The Rat”) gave way to a much more gentle, melodic croon over the course of the band’s six records, culminating in Heaven, the band’s ostensible final album, which was downright lush in a way no one would have expected back when Bows + Arrows came out (see: “We Can’t Be Beat”). Now Leithauser is on the verge of releasing his first solo album, Black Hours, next month, and he brought his band to town to air out some of these songs. Leithauser’s popping neck veins as he strains his voice have always been the most talked ­about element of Walkmen shows, so this was reason enough to try and catch him “solo.”

I was really glad to find that the show had been moved from the El Rey, probably my least favorite venue in Los Angeles, to the Hotel Cafe after the album’s release date got pushed back by a month. Hotel Cafe is an intimate venue trying for an East­-Village-­in­the­-Sixties feel, and mostly succeeding (if Inside Llewyn Davis is anything to judge by). The first ten feet out from the tiny stage are occupied by tables, the lighting set to “lounge.”

The less said about opener Alternate Routes, the better. Two dudes with two acoustic guitars and one porkpie hat, singing lines like “She was my stereo/I got lost in the audio” and “She didn’t get her momma’s hips/So she took her momma’s lipstick,” their spokesman/frontman spending more time talking about how he “tries to turn long run­-on sentences into poetry” and “hopes he pulled it off this time” than actually playing his unbelievably mediocre adult-­contemporary ballads. The most direct thing I can say about this band is that they apparently spent the last three weeks touring as part of Ingrid Michaelson’s band (no announcement has ever made more sense). Or, as my Concert­ Going Companion put it, “This is the music that rolls over the credits of bad romantic comedies.”

When Hamilton Leithauser and friends took the stage, I was worried they wouldn’t quite fit. Along with his core band, he brought with him a full five-­piece string section. The violist did actually sort of have to hang out in the wings, and bassist Kevin Baker spent much of the set sitting atop his amp. The rest of the band was culled from the impressive supporting cast Leithauser had when making the record—including Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman, The Shins’ Richard Swift, and former-­Blood-­Brother/erstwhile­-Fleet-­Fox (WTF, right?) Morgan Henderson. Present last night were The Walkmen’s own Paul Maroon on guitar and piano, former French Kick Nick Stumpf on drums, and Stumpf’s sister Anna on backing vocals and piano.

(A word or two­ hundred about French Kicks—throughout high school, I was ridiculed for constantly asserting that French Kicks were a better band than The Walkmen. The two were compared constantly, not only because they were friends from school, but because they sounded quite similar. The Kicks got accused at every turn of “ripping off” their younger brothers, despite the fact that the two bands only sounded alike in the sense that two bands who come up together in the same scene probably will. I preferred the Kicks because the velvety croons of Stumpf and Josh Wise seemed like better singing than Leithauser’s adenoidal squawking. In retrospect, the two bands are hardly comparable, nor are their singing styles, but I still like the Kicks’ apparent swan song Swimming far better than any single Walkmen album. In any case, it was lovely to hear the equally­ super­tall Stumpf and Leithauser sing together last night, their voices work incredibly well together, and it was probably the closest I’ll ever get to a French Kicks show.)

Leithauser spent the evening in seemingly good spirits, joking often about his mopey recording personality, (“This one is called ‘Self Pity.’ This is the one where we all just wallow in it.” “Anna’s gonna help me sing this one about our marriage [fictional], it’s called ‘I Will Never Love Again.”) When not playing guitar, he maintained his signature onstage pose, towering above everyone with one hand in his pocket, the other on the mic, head angled upwards. I finally understood why Leithauser’s neck veins bulge so much when he sings—the guy has a baritone speaking voice, and should probably spend more time in that range if he wants to keep singing for much longer.

Anyone would be forgiven for mistaking most of these songs for Walkmen songs—on top of Leithauser’s inimitable pipes, Maroon’s signature jangle has been a hallmark of just about every Walkmen track ever, and it’s all over these songs. That said, he did get the chance to break out of the rigid Walkmen structure a few times, like with his actually really tasty wah-­wah solos on highlight “I Don’t Need Anyone.” Stumpf got to really wail, too, on rocker “I Will Never Love Again,” but a lot of these songs really could’ve used the nervy drumming of The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick. (Then again, so could most Walkmen songs.) “11 O’Clock Friday Night” made for a great time early in the set, standing out from the rest of the Walkmen­-esque set by virtue of Maroon’s xylophone. But several songs harkened back to the mediocre Americana-­isms of Walkmen mis­step A Hundred Miles Off, a much less exciting touchstone, than, say, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone.

While we weren’t treated to any actual Walkmen songs, I didn’t feel cheated. It wouldn’t have been fair to expect this from Leithauser (or Maroon, for that matter)—they’ve earned the right to do other things. I just wish they’d branch out even more.

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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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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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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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LIVE: Mirah, The Satellite, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

It’s always nice to get a little taste of the Northwest down here. It’s why I stop by Seattle­ export Caffe Vita every once in a while for a shot of homegrown espresso. It’s why I’m always excited when a customer’s phone number reveals their PDX roots. And it’s why I really like the Satellite, whose bookers have got to be Portland expats or something. The last time I was here, the DJ played most of Friend and Foe between sets by The Wild Ones and Typhoon. This time around, we’ve got AgesAndAges and Mirah, almost a more adorable lineup than the last one.

AgesAndAges are a decent band. I really don’t know much about them aside from the fact that they’re from Portland, that they’re pretty cute, and that their percussionist/vocalist Sarah Riddle very talented person I’ve known my whole life. These guys layer six­-part harmonies over most of their songs, throw in a variety of cute percussion flourishes, and generally seem to be having a really nice time up there on stage. Their banter was sweet and charming, and frontman Tim Perry can definitely write some nice melodies, and the always amazing soundwork at The Satellite did this band a lot of favors by keeping their sound as crisp as crisp could be. But if I’m being honest, I was rarely moved by their set. The songs blended together, and the overall mood was definitely not the anti­-establishment revolution Perry says their new album Divisionary is all about. I also felt that there was just too much of the harmonizing, too much of the percussion gimmicks. These songs would really benefit from some diversity and dynamic shifts. All partiality aside, Riddle might be the best reason to see this band, as her collection of shakers and tambourines is astounding and played with skill, and her voice stands out in the crowded field.

Then there was Mirah, who’s long been one of my favorite singer/songwriters. Whether she’s doing her cutesy K Records shtick on de facto debut You Think It’s Like This But Really It’s Like This, sophisticatedly lamenting the impending doom of Mother Earth on 2009’s (a)spera, or collaborating with/dating Thao of and the Get Down Stay Down fame on 2011’s Thao + Mirah. No matter what she does, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn does it with class and one of the most beguilingly beautiful voices of modern indie.

I’d never gotten the chance to see Mirah before this show, so I didn’t know what to expect —was she going to play a solo acoustic set? Would there be a string ensemble? Would someone show up to play that amazing harp thing on “Shells”? Would—my God—would Phil Elverum be there?! No, no, no, and no. Mirah was joined on stage by a wildly talented percussionist (who bounced effortlessly between drums and vibraphone), a wildly talented violinist/keyboardist/backing vocalist, and a dude on bass and guitar who I assume was wildly talented as well but just didn’t have a lot to do. Mirah herself stuck almost entirely to voice and guitar, which is perfectly fine by me.

While the set was by and large enchanting, and the sound quality remained amazing, with no unnecessary reverb cluttering Mirah’s stripped down beauty, the crowd generally seemed to disagree. Maybe I was standing too far back, but I often had trouble making out words to the songs off forthcoming album Changing Light (her first solo record since ’09!) over the whining of the girl behind me about how tired she was and when would the show be over and can I just fall asleep on your shoulder? The low­ level din of the crowd was not only obnoxious and distracting, but confounding—Mirah’s music demands reverential silence, what were these assholes doing here if they weren’t willing to give it?

Then there was the setlist—I suppose it makes sense to play mostly new material when your last real record is five years old, but this set was so dominated by new stuff that I couldn’t help but be sad about not hearing classics like, say, “Don’t Die In Me,” “Cold Cold Water,” “Education,” “The River,” “Look Up!” . . . I could go on. On top of the overall lack of older material, the selections from her back catalog that Mirah did play were a bit confounding, generally pulling what I consider to be the weaker songs from each of her older albums. (a)spera was represented by set­opener “Bones & Skin,” which is good, but not great, unlike pretty much all of the rest of that record. Her arguably best album, C’mon Miracle, got it’s arguably worst song with “The Dogs of B.A.” Advisory Committee managed to escape this fate when she closed the set with the amazing “Mt. St. Helens,” which she peppered with commentary about how beautiful it was that we were all bonding over lines such as “There’s no welcome in the end/There’s no reason to return again.” After a set characterized mainly by tasteful restraint, the distorted final third of “Mt. St. Helens” was a joyous release. Then there was adorably ’50s closer “Words Cannot Describe,” from You Think It’s Like This, which was fun and all, and featured Mirah prancing around the stage like a young Shirley Temple, but, I mean, come on. “Sweepstakes Prize”? “Person Person”? I dunno.

The other puzzling thing was that the album getting the most representation after Changing Light was Thao + Mirah. This is odd not just because I consider T+M to be generally kind of weak, but because Changing Light is a self­proclaimed breakup album, presumably about Thao. (“Presumably” because the album features collaborations with Greg Saunier, Mary Timony, Heather McEntire, Emily Wells, Jherek Bischoff, Eli Crews, and Mirah’s own sister Emily, but not Thao Nguyen.) That said, “Little Cup” was gorgeous, “Rubies & Rocks” was fun, and “Hallelujah” was heartbreaking. I should probably give that album another listen.

I should also say that I’m really not complaining about hearing all the Changing Light material, because it was all really good. Lead single “Oxen Hope” might be one of the most interesting compositions Mirah’s ever done, with a minimal, syncopated drumbeat, and, live, a shrieking distorted violin solo, which Mirah doubled on keyboard to awesome effect. The recorded version of the song even has some Autotune-­esque vocal manipulation, which was emulated by backing vocals live. As I don’t know the titles of the other songs I heard, I can’t say much about standouts, but it’s clear that we’re all in for a really, really sad treat when this album drops in May.

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LIVE: Perfect Pussy, E. 7th Punx, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

Given all the hype surrounding Perfect Pussy—when was the last time a band blew-the-fuck-up on the internet off an incredibly low-quality demo tape?—I’m a bit surprised that on what I assume is their first LA visit, they’re not playing a real venue that charges more than six bucks. Like, okay, maybe not the Echo, but The Smell, at least? When this show got moved from newly minted Hippest Place Ever The Church On York in Highland Park to a weird, mysterious warehouse venue across the street from the downtown Greyhound Station, I became a little bit worried that I’d get knifed at this show. Their facebook page features exclusively Gothic-fonted, black-and-white posters for bands with frightening names and military-style logos.

Turns out E. 7th Punx is actually a really awesome little spot, with a great community of kids drinking forties, dressed in leather and denim, buying vinyl and (even better!) cassettes. It’s hard to actually call it a warehouse—the place is more like a garage, with no stage, and a few little lofted areas where people obviously live. Eavesdropping evidence suggests that the crowd was actually maybe split down the middle between people who were here for Perfect Pussy (in from Syracuse) and kids who just show up every time there’s a show here for the local punk acts.

These local punk acts broke down as follows: Stupid Life were a few scrappy kids playing straight hardcore, with a tiny frontman in nothing but a huge t-shirt and boxer briefs flailing around manically. They closed their set with a cover I didn’t know, and I saw Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves singing along excitedly at the edge of the crowd. Doses, the only opener here that merits more attention, were a guitar/bass/drum machine act, very clearly inspired by Big Black, who played Kanye samples and airhorn noises between each caustic blast of a song. I just downloaded their debut LP for free (while you’re allowed to pay, Doses tell you not to) on their Bandcamp. You should, too, if this sounds like your cup of tea. Stoic Violence were a band I didn’t think would exist anymore—leatherheads wearing studded gloves, hanging their jackboot-adorned banner behind them before a screed of thrashy hardcore that bloodied the singer’s face. The dude in the G.B.H. shirt was really into it. Then there was High-Functioning Flesh—two dudes who were essentially Wham! post-possession by Satan. Crappy 80s synths abounded, as did lone dangly earrings and silly haircuts. None of these sets lasted more than fifteen minutes.

Perfect Pussy stuck to the short-and-sweet formula as well. They may have made it to twenty by playing six songs instead of the four on their tape, but it felt like about five. I attribute this to the fantastic energy on display. The band thrashed about, guitars set to “maul” (Seriously, I don’t think less attention has ever been paid to amp EQ.) Graves, in a velvet dress and silk shirt, no less, bounded around, fist-pumping and screaming her head off. Not that we could hear her. Singing through a guitar amp, it was hard to tell if her mic was even on, and the lyrics were even less intelligible than they are on record, if possible.

Which reminds me—the record. Perfect Pussy’s tape, I have lost all desire for feeling, is one of the more fascinating listening experiences I’ve had recently. You read the band’s name and think, “Oh, okay, this will be a fun little joke.” You read the tape’s title and think, “Okay, maybe a sort of nihilistic, mean joke.” Then you listen to the four songs on display (titled “I”, “II”, “III”, and “IV”, respectively), have a blast with Perfect Pussy’s noise-punk screed for 13 minutes, and walk away a happier person. You come back to their bandcamp page and realize you can read the lyrics, which only come through in fits on your headphones. Then your entire opinion of the band changes: this is a rape reaction EP. Or if not rape, then serious sexual abuse. These lyrics are furious, they are dark, and they make you read the name “Perfect Pussy” with significantly more shame and fear than you did the first time around. At the same time, you realize that Graves is the victor in her story, and it’s only more apparent seeing them live that when she screams, “I am full of light / I am filled with joy / I am full of peace / I had this dream that I forgave my enemies,” at the end of “I”, she really means it.

Graves, and the rest of the band, seemed to be having an absolute blast the entire twenty minutes of their set. I definitely recognized “I” and “IV”, and I think “II” and “III” were in there as well, but I was too busy moshing to pay much attention to the setlist. Even on the floor, surrounded by a bunch of the men she professes to hate on “IV”, Graves seemed 100% in her element, having already forgiven these potential enemies. It was an interesting experience, being in a pit where no one is singing along. I’m used to punk shows being full of upraised fists and shouting mouths, but this was just people touching people they don’t even know, yo, to quote Craig Finn. At the end of the last song, Graves sat down, the guitarist barreled his way into the crowd, and some dudes hoisted the bassist into the air, where he proceeded to rip all his strings out. Then, after the feedback died out, the over-equipped keyboardist led us all in a little Fun With Arpeggiators groove, which, for all I know, continued for hours after I walked out of E. 7th and onto the cold streets of L.A. in December, appropriately drenched in sweat, full of light.

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TWO STATES: The Dismemberment Plan

By Hollister Dixon and Gabriel Mathews

The Dismemberment Plan – 12/8/13 – Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

The first time I heard about Dismemberment Plan was in an interview with Ben Gibbard. “Half the fun of seeing Dismemberment Plan was wondering what they were gonna fuck up next.” The sentiment stuck with me until I began listening to D-Plan, digging my way into Emergency & I, which still is – admittedly – the only one of their records to stick for me (the others are good albums, however). They broke up before I ever got the chance to see them, but there would always be something alluring about a band like The Plan: reckless, insane, stream-of-consciousness, heartfelt, and balls-to-the-wall talented – and they were all of that at all times. And then, something remarkable happened: the band got back together, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Emergency & I, but then decided they would just stay together. When asked about new music, they said, “We’re not planning a new record, but we’re doing these shows and taking it day to day after that,” but then they did make a new record, this year’s pretty terrible and universally panned Uncanney Valley. Terrible as it was, it gave them a very good reason to make a full go of touring – which brought them to Portland, at long last.

First and foremost, Telekinesis were the opener. Michael Lerner’s drum-forward (that’s not figurative, his drumkit was on the edge of the stage) Seattle band were the opener, and from the get go, I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake by sleeping on the band. They played a good 35 minutes, and throughout, I remembered the fact that I had their newest album, Dormarion, sitting on my hard drive at home – and I had never once listened to it. What the hell was I thinking? Despite knowing almost nothing about the band, other than the fact that it was an awesome performance, I couldn’t shake the fact that it was one of the tightest opening acts I’ve ever seen.

“We learned something new today, you guys,” Travis Morrison said, taking his place at a small synthesizer at the front of the stage. “If you put regular gasoline… in a diesel van… it stops running.” Without much time to react, the band launched into the unbeatable “Doing the Stand Still,” which was just enough to whip the crowd into a complete frenzy – just before barrelling head-on into “The City”, which really got things moving. It wasn’t until a few songs later, during the spectacularly unhinged “Girl O’Clock,” that I realized that Ben Gibbard had completely duped me. Rather than having the esteemed pleasure of watching a bunch of dudes fucking up and failing to apologize for messing shit up, all I got was a bunch of dudes at the top of their game, proving that they can not only play like motherfuckers, but play like motherfuckers in exactly the right way to get the crowd unnaturally excited. Despite the – ahem – lukewarm reception to Uncanney Valley, the songs resonated more in this setting, blended in with a soup that relied more heavily on Emergency & I than the album they were promoting, as well as those old gems like “The Ice of Boston” – though more on that one in a few. In fact, the energy in the room was palpable enough that, even if everyone in the room hated the new material, it would have been impossible to tell.

This can all be chalked up to the fact that, yes, these guys are stars now. It has been ten years (and 6 months) since The Plan were last in Portland (their last PDX show was June 9th, 2003, at the now-defunct Meow Meow, to be exact), and in that ten years (and 6 months), the band have realized their full potential, and they’ve brought it all to the table for the revitalized D-Plan. Rarely am I ever forced to rewire the connections in my brain to disassociate connections like “The Dismemberment Plan” and “sloppy-ass band”, but, around halfway through 20 song set, I realized that those old connections needed to go, and the new ones needed to step in – all soundtracked by the temperamental Emergency & I cut “You Are Invited,” a song that only explodes for a few moments, but never stops being brilliant. That feeling held on throughout the rest of the show, right on through to “OK, Joke’s Over” – which, this evening, included splashes of Kendrick Lamar and “Royals” by Lorde.

But, that wasn’t it. They still had a monstrous three-song encore to perform. They began with “Waiting”, the very first new D-Plan song after the long drought, which paired well with the rest of the show. Morrison brought two people up to model their merch, which in turn started the traditional stage-surge for “The Ice of Boston”, which inspired more hugs than I’ve ever seen in one place. Finally, as if that weren’t enough, they sliced their way through “What Do You Want Me To Say?”, a song who’s chorus was sung loudly (and drunkenly) by the crowd during the pre-encore break. It was a madhouse, to say the least.

So, where does that leave us? It’s a weird thing to be disappointed that all you got from a band was an incredibly tight and impeccable show by a band that you love. Looking back at it now, though, I can’t help but feel like I would never trade that show for any of the more chaotic shows that came in the band’s salad days. I can’t wait to see how they perform the next time they come back into town. I’ll be there.

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The Dismemberment Plan –  12/12/13 – Fonda Theater, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

There’s a Chuck Klosterman essay about Rivers Cuomo as a songwriter, which essentially validates the dude’s entire (and entirely mediocre-to-shitty) post-Pinkerton output as simply continuing his wholly unselfcoscious project of saying exactly what’s on his mind. The argument goes like this: The Blue Album and Pinkerton were excellent and relatable albums for alienated twenty-somethings because Cuomo was, at the time of their writing, an alienated twenty-something; his Green and onward work has continued his perfectly honest expression of his own feelings, but now he’s a a forty-year-old lech who actually does want to live in Beverly Hills and you’re regressive for continuing to relate to the first two records and to call Weezer’s newer material out as shit.

I think a similar reading can be applied to The Dismemberment Plan’s first post-reunion record, Uncanney Valley, which came out earlier this year. I say this because, well, we’ve got to talk about Uncanney Valley for a minute if we’re going to acknowledge any D-Plan show that occurred after its release. Travis Morrison wrote two of the best albums ever about being an isolated young person, 1999’s legendary Emergency & I and 2001’s hideously underrated Change, before the band broke up and Morrison released a couple of universally panned solo records. The Plan reunited a couple years ago to play some shows, and apparently gelled well enough, twelve years on from Change,  to make a record. Unfortunately, this record is their Make Believe, or maybe even their Red Album. Which means it’s pretty bad. If E&I was Morrison’s Pinkerton, which it was, then Change was an album Rivers Cuomo never managed to make—essentially Pinkerton a few years down the line, less horny, less bitter, but still very much alone. Change is a subtle record, in a way that nothing The Plan had done before ever was. Us fans could have reasonably expected Morrison’s reunion with his band to bring him back around, and maybe make an awesome, even more subtle and insightful extension from Change. Spoiler alert: Uncanney Valley is not that album. The refrain to it’s first song is: “Like a fat nun on drugs / Drowning in hugs / You know that I love the lovin’.” Morrison’s Cuomo quotient almost surpasses Rivers himself on this record, and it’s kind of really sad, if you’re the kind of person who wants a miserable person to stay miserable forever so they can keep making good art. Which I kind of am.

Okay, so, the show. Telekinesis opened, and were pretty solid. I don’t have a lot to say about them. Frontman/drummer/mastermind Michael Benjamin Lerner was fairly impressive simply for being simultaneously a good drummer and a good singer, which strikes me as very hard to pull off. His Seattle/Portland-culled live band was really solid, and the band ran through some really solid pop-punk songs that ended up kind of bleeding together. Their stage presence was actually really great, though, with Lerner initiating a couple of Q&A sessions with the audience, and being generally adorable.

Anyway, who cares? No one was at this show for Telekinesis. We went to see The Dismemberment Plan. I didn’t know until Morrison mentioned it that this was the last show of the tour, but in retrospect I think LA really benefitted, as their set was, I think, about three or four songs longer than other sets on this tour. As the curtain rose, the band immediately called us all out by jumping into “Do The Standing Still,” an ode to everyone’s favorite indie rock dance. The Fonda crowd by and large didn’t follow Morrison’s lead and boogie like it was the last night on earth (that man’s pelvis is a creature of its own), but some of us did get down, and it was rad. They immediately segued into Change highlight “Time Bomb,” and proceeded to play a super great, super long set that did a commendable job of balancing the Uncanney material with favorites from E&I, lesser favorites from Change, and a few weird tracks for the die hards from their first two records, “!” and The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified.

I have to admit that the new songs definitely shone more here than they do on record. This could be attributable to the Fonda’s always excellent sound, or the band’s utterly infectious enthusiasm for the show. While guitarist/keyboardist Jason Caddell remained pretty reserved, the rest of the band was going apeshit almost the entire time. Morrison never lost his manic grin, and bassist Eric Axelson grooved hard all night. Axelson and drummer Joe Easley are probably one of the best rhythm sections of the past twenty years, definitely the best all-lefty rhythm section of the past twenty years. Easley is a maniac, incredibly talented, ferocious, and able to sing along with his favorite lines while playing even The Plan’s most notoriously complex beats.

One mid-set highlight was Change closer “Ellen & Ben” into Emergency closer “Back and Forth,” which made for a surprisingly moving pair of conclusions thrust into the middle of a set. Morrison is an adept vocalist who bounces around between singing his songs straight and switching them up rhythmically without ever showing the seams. Sometimes he was almost rapping, as on deep cuts “Bra” and “The Dismemberment Plan Get Rich.” I found myself shockingly into “Living In Song,” the Uncanney song about Madonna’s art collection. This probably had a lot to do with Axelson’s rad bass/cuira riffing. The dude played with a goddamn cuira in his fret-hand. It was nice, also, that while the new songs are pretty straight-forward, older, spazzier tracks like “Gyroscope” proved that The Plan can still make incredibly complex musical moves and pull them off effortlessly.

Towards the end of their set, the band convened onstage to switch up the setlist, apologizing to their tech people for their spontaneity. They threw in “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer,” one of the better songs off the new record, and then concluded the main set with the now-standard closer “OK, Joke’s Over,” from their debut. Morrison has a habit of turning this jam into a medley of recent songs, popular and not, and this iteration certainly did not disappoint—he did the entire first verse and chorus from St. Vincent’s three-day-old “Birth In Reverse,” (How of-the-moment!) followed by a beautiful rendition of Lorde’s ubiquitous “Royals.” They then returned (very quickly, these things are becoming such jokes) for a five-song encore.

The encore opened with awful Uncanney closer “Let’s All Go To The Dogs Tonight,” which had me a little nervous that we weren’t going to get the payoff I was hoping for. The drunk dude next to me who looked exactly like the Comic Book Guy kept shouting for “8.5 Minutes,” but he didn’t get what he was hoping for either. Instead, we got a couple of Change cuts, “Following Through” and “The Other Side,” both of which were played with skill and poise, and then the requisite one-two punch of “The Ice Of Boston” and “What Do You Want Me To Say?” It’s become tradition at Plan shows to get up on stage for “Boston,” but Morrison had some bad news—the stage is real old and fragile. “You could all get up here and it would be a lot of fun, but we’d all die. Which maybe would be worth it, but let’s not find out!” Even without the stage jumping, the song was a blast, as was being a part of “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAYYYYY??!???” as sung by an entire venue of drunk Plan fanatics. The band left the stage gracefully, and we dispersed.

Was this a life-changing experience? I kind of hoped it would be. Over the past several months, Emergency & I and, to an even greater degree, Change have become crucial pieces of my personal soundtrack, and I thought that maybe seeing The Dismemberment Plan live would somehow validate my feelings. And it sort of did. But the set was a bit bogged down by crappy new numbers, and even during the emotional peaks of “Back and Forth,” “Time Bomb,” “What Do You Want Me To Say?” and the rest of the classics, Morrison seemed very removed from the subject matter, and it was hard to forget about the fact that he’s now contently married and doesn’t actually feel all this shit anymore.

All that said, the show’s most poignant moment rested in what is perhaps the Plan’s most poignant song. “You Are Invited” functioned as the set’s peak, as everyone but Morrison left the stage after the first verse, only to come back for a resounding reunion that established, in very simple terms, their love for us as a crowd, and for each other, and for the process of making music. If we’re honest, “You Are Invited” is proof that Morrison has always written incredibly dumb lyrics. The song’s central fantasy of a universal invitation is just plain silly, and it includes lyrical blunders such as “There was no time or location / There was really no info at all / No date, no place, no time, no RSVP.” Dude, you’re repeating yourself. But the thing is, even if Morrison is Riversing like crazy, it doesn’t matter in the live setting, where the band is having such a great time that you can’t not feel invited for all time.

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