Tag Archives: Los Angeles

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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LIVE: Obits, The Echo, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

OBITS, ROB CROW’S GLOOMY PLACES, OBLITERATIONS @ THE ECHO, 11/21/13

Full disclosure: I didn’t go to see Obits out of any serious appreciation for the band. I went to see Obits because they’re fronted by Rick Froberg, who has also fronted Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, who have quickly become two of my favorite bands pretty much ever. But seeing as DLJ are never going to exist again (drummer Mark Trombino now runs a donut shop on York Blvd., that’s how much punk he’s got left in him) and I wasn’t into Hot Snakes in time for their 2011-12 reunion tour, this is pretty much my only chance to see Froberg in the flesh.

Obits are his latest band, and they’re a good one. But each successive Froberg-fronted act (after Pitchfork, which was basically prenatal Jehu) has gotten less and less interesting—DLJ were the pinnacle of intensity and virtuosity in his career, their two records of post-hardcore assault being, in my mind, the best the genre had to offer. Hot Snakes kept the intensity but streamlined and simplified into relatively straight-forward yet super excellent punk rock for three straight albums. Obits are pretty much nothing but a good rock band, playing rock music that wouldn’t really sound out of place in any of the past six decades. They’ve absorbed those decades’ rock tropes so thoroughly that they can just about emulate anything from Dick Dale to Sex Pistols to a pretty good Hot Snakes impression. That said, over the course of Obits three records (so far—Froberg’s pattern seems to be to make one more record with each band than the last band he was in), nothing indicates that Froberg is really doing anything more than sitting on his fat Sub Pop checks and cranking out tunes with minimal effort. Of those three records, I’ve listened to each at least once, and I’ve actually given number two, 2011’s Moody, Standard And Poor several spins. These are good songs, especially for a band comprised of dudes who should be the fathers of the guys making this music, but they’re not exactly life-changing.

Anyway, the show. I walked in most of the way through Obliterations‘ set, the second half of which was actually pretty obliterating. All I actually know about this band is that they’re based in LA, and that their guitarist is Stephen McBean, of Black Mountain/Pink Mountaintops fame. Obliterations are by far McBean’s heaviest act. The whole band has shoulder-length-or-longer hair, which spent most of the time covering their faces. The singer stalked around in a Void t-shirt, screaming at high volume. It was intense. Four dudes in the front moshed for about thirty seconds. But after like three songs of them not doing anything especially new, I pretty much lost interest.

As the next act was setting up, I wandered out to the smoker’s patio to find Froberg and the rest of Obits lighting up a bowl. At first I was surprised—he’d always seemed like more of a drinker to me—but then I realized that this is what aging rockers do, I guess. Plus, the dude has origins in Hawaii, so, I mean. Yeah.

Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place is yet another project from the simpler-named dude in Pinback. This guy has so much output between his like seven bands that I had no idea what to expect. Turns out, Gloomy Place is pretty much just another incredibly un-hip turn for Crow’s eliptical songwriting that, more often than not, blatantly refuses to do anything the straight-forward way. My main thoughts throughout Crow’s set, during which he was backed by four really lame-looking dudes, had to do with wondering if Crow has ever written a basic, Obits-esque rock song in his life, thinking about how completely appropriate it was that the bassist was playing a B.C. Rich Warlock, and questioning the guitarist’s Merrills-and-cutoffs from an aesthetic standpoint. I also thought about how funny it was that Crow wore barrettes to keep his hair out of his face. It seemed like a really odd pairing, for Obits to tour with these guys, but then I remembered that Crow contributed a few “alohas” to my favorite Jehu track, “Luau,” back in ’94, and it occurred to me that there’s probably a lot of history here.

History is certainly the name of the game for Obits. Not a single member of this band has full color in his hair. Second guitarist Sohrab Habibion (formerly of Edsel) looks like your neighbor’s paunchy father, glasses and male-pattern-baldness and all. Froberg retains a good deal of his cool through a sweet denim jacket and his signature mop of hair, but let’s face it— these guys are getting old. That said, it seems like Sub Pop’s current rockist caché lies in paying a ton of old dudes to keep doing what they’ve been doing for twenty years, so I guess Obits are a good fit.

For all the derision and ageism I’m laying on here, Obits put on a quite a solid show. Habibion, despite being a squat little dude, demonstrated quite a bit of energy, bouncing around and at one point coercing a fan into buying him a whiskey with a broken guitar pick, only to spit it straight into the air as the band pounced into another song. Everyone in the group has real chops (though maybe not, like, DLJ chops, no). Scott Gursky’s workmanlike drumming standing out a lot more in the live setting than on record. Froberg, also, put more energy in here than on the band’s albums, screaming occasionally at almost Snakesian levels. The setlist was nicely heavy on the album I know best, with Moody highlights “New August,” “I Want Results,” and “Everything Looks Better In The Sun” all making appearances. “Shift Operator” served as a nice showcase for Habibion’s clean baritone. We also got a lot of energy on tracks form this years Bed & Bugs, such as “Taste The Diff” and “Spun Out,” and a few of the better cuts from their 2009 debut I Blame You—”Widow Of My Dreams” being especially fun. (Also fun was seeing Crow sing along in the front row, and then jump up on stage to be Habibion’s guitar tech.)

In the end, I found myself questioning whether Obits’ relative lack of intensity/amazingness when compared to Froberg’s past acts is something that I can blame on the man himself. For a bit, I considered the possibility that the magic ingredient in both Jehu and Hot Snakes was guitarist John Reis, who is actually pretty much a god in my eyes. But then I remembered that nothing Reis has done without Froberg has been all that great—Rocket From The Crypt, for all their international success, are no more interesting than Obits, and Reis’ current act, The Night Walkers, are even less innovative. What it seems is that the two need each other to make the magic happen. So here’s a proposal, John, Rick— Bring Drive Like Jehu back and I’ll let you keep rocking till you’re sixty-five.

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LIVE: Typhoon, The Satellite, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

I’d been having a pretty rough day. One could describe it as “an emotional rollercoaster,” but that probably wouldn’t be accurate. It was more like an emotional ice luge, with a slight upwards bump at the very end to sort of make me think everything was alright. There was no doubt in my mind, though, that going to see Typhoon would essentially airlift me back to the top of the mountain.

Why was I so convinced? Because I’ve been seeing Typhoon since way back in 2007, when they’d open every show with “So Passes Away The Glory Of The World” into “Rolling Credits,” when they’d play “Shallows” pretty much all the time, when there were maybe seven of them at one show, maybe thirteen at the next. I saw them open for The Builders & The Butchers and Man Man at the Hawthorne Theatre, I saw them play that basement room in PSU that was then dubbed The Modern Age. Every single time I saw them, I felt like I was witnessing something wholly transcendent. Typhoon are masters of the dynamic build, and this has only become more true over time. The most recent time I saw them was when they played on the quad at lunchtime at Occidental College, where I was working for the radio station that brought them out. I helped them set up, and then they pretty much blew everyone away with a set culled largely from their just-released second LP Hunger & Thirst. Songs like “CPR/Claws Pt. 2” and “Belly Of The Cavern” came off like glorified versions of their recorded selves, shinier and more intricate. Being able to see the way the band’s twelve-or-so members (at that point) interacted, the way they were all coordinated so perfectly with each other made the songs pop that much more. The Occidental lunchtime crowd was thoroughly impressed.

Three years later, here I am, writing for this blog and getting sent to review Typhoon’s set at The Satellite. I’d never been to this venue before, shockingly, and I’ve got to say, it was pretty darn great. Real small and intimate, the Satellite (fka Spaceland) felt like a place I could find in some inner-SE warehouse in Portland. The first couple hours of the evening (most of which I missed) were apparently occupied by a “Typhoon DJ set,” during which the crowd and the band mingled fluidly. I found frontman Kyle Morton, introduced myself, and told him how incredibly stoked I was to see them suddenly getting some seriously overdue national attention (NPR, WSJ, check it!) He seemed genuinely happy to have me barging in on his conversation, which is always a nice feature in a performer.

Anyway, the music. Wild Ones were up first. I’m not sure (though I’m guessing most of my readers are) if frontwoman (and Lincoln High alum!) Danielle Sullivan and Morton are still together, but I’d assume they are. This made it pretty interesting, standing a few feet behind Morton and watching as Sullivan sang Wild Ones’ electro-pop love songs in his general direction. That was cute. Musically, though, I can’t say I was super moved by this act. There are at least three fantastic musicians in Wild Ones—their drummer, their guitarist, and, of course, Sullivan, whose clarion-like voice seems impossibly large for her tiny body and has the range of three Mariah Careys.  But throughout their set, I couldn’t help but feel like these folks should have been putting their talents to use in bands that make more compelling, original choices than Wild Ones. On the rare moments that the guitarist got to let loose and solo, I really felt like this was a rock band gussied up in electro clothing, but nothing ever came close to the joy I felt seeing Sullivan’s old band, Eskimo & Sons, back in ’08 at Rotture for PDX Pop Now! That said, their cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was pretty spot on and timely.

Doing a bit of pre-show research, I discovered that Typhoon have recorded a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You.” The Frank Ocean/Drake contrast is a pretty apt one here. Typhoon are doing something a bit less direct, a bit less blatant than WIld Ones, and it makes them vastly more interesting. (I can’t really stand either Ocean or Drake, but at least Ocean pals around with Tyler, The Creator.) There’s more menace to Typhoon, more intrigue. That said, there’s almost no point in comparing the two bands. One is a five-piece electro-pop act, while the other features eleven members, most of whom are multi-instrumentalists, and could maybe be described as post-folk chamber-rock, if you had to put a label on it. But what Typhoon do, in my mind, hardly has anything to do with the music they make. It’s all about the feelings they evoke.

The press around Typhoon’s new record, White Lighter, which made up pretty much all of their set, is largely based around Morton’s childhood battle with Lyme disease, which is certainly a tragedy and which definitely informs a lot of his lyrics. But watching the band tear through rousing opener “Kitchen Tile” followed by the too-intricate-to-be-true “Artificial Light,” the pretext falls away, and all you have is two guitarists, two drummers, three trumpeters, two string players, a bassist, a ukulele player, and something like nine singers tearing you out of the place you stand and throwing you somewhere else entirely. Typhoon are truly masters of dynamics, and they know exactly how long to hold those pregnant pauses before launching into torrents of sound only eleven people on stage could make. Drummers Alex Fitch and Pieter Hilton sat as close to the front of the stage as possible and played at times in perfect lockstep, at others by contrasting Fitch’s restraint with Hilton’s bombast. At all times, they held down the floor for the swirling melodies brought on by trumpeters Eric Stipe, Ryan McAlpin and Tyler Ferrin, the violn/viola combo of Jennifer Hilfragel and Shannon Rose Steele, and the masteful guitar playing of Morton and David Hall, who I realized for the first time at this show is sort of a genius. The arrangements on display are perfect— every moment is planned out so the songs come together like architectural works. Every member got their chance to shine, as when Steele took a solo vocal turn on “Hunger & Thirst,” or when fan favorite Toby Tanabe kicked up the dust with his fuzz bass on “The Lake.”

The fans at this show… I’m just so incredibly happy to see Typhoon play in front of a room in Los Angeles jam-packed with people who adore their music, who shout them out by name, who call for requests (“Requests will only be processed by telepathy, thank you,” said Morton at one point), who scream along with the scream-along moments and who are devastatingly quiet during the hushed ones.  (One audience member/band friend got “Happy Birthday” sung to her once by each band, and the crowd joined in both times. Happy birthday, Angela!) Aside from a few douchebags Hall had to shut up eventually (and who later left—Typhoon 1, Douchebags 0), this was a truly adoring crowd, and you could tell Morton was proud of himself and his band for finally having gotten to this place. During utterly incredible, sectionate “Hunger & Thirst” Morton shouts “I could’ve been a POP singer!” Dude— you’re there.

While I was slightly disappointed that the band played not a single song older than A New Kind Of House, and that the set was a little short on the whole, encore “The Honest Truth” was certainly the best way to close the show— the rousing shout-along (lifted from H&T‘s “Mouth Of The Cave”) was a perfect end to the evening. I felt like I was home.

PS: Shouts out to the DJ, who played most of Menomena’s unbeatable Friend And Foe between sets. You rule, man.

PPS: The dude I see at every show in LA who I think is in the band Whoa Hunx was there. Whoa Hunx dude, if you read this, who are you? Have you cloned yourself? How are you friends with every band? I don’t understand your existence.

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LIVE: Filter Magazine’s Culture Collide Festival, Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

Author’s note: In keeping with the spirit of the events being described, I will include all sponsor references available to me.

FILTER Magazine’s Culture Collide® was not at all what I was expecting it to be. Billed as a three day weekend of music, panels, and heavily sponsored events, featuring largely unheard of bands from all over the world, spread out around Echo Park, and all this for the low price of thirty bones, I was anticipating a melting pot of LA’s musicall-inclined citizens, swarming the few blocks of Sunset Boulevard along which the festival was spread. I was expecting a packed house at every show, I was expecting people to be unbelievably stoked about the headliners and helplessly intrigued by the littler acts from Israel, Latvia, Costa Rica and beyond. What I got instead was one of the more bizarre festival experiences of my life. Here follows my account.

Thursday

I met up with my designated Concert Attending Companion (hereon referred to as CAC) on Thursday night outside the Echo at 7:00 PM. Nothing was slated to start at the venue until 8:00, but we were under the impression that there would have been so many $30 wristbands sold that getting into a tiny venue like the Echo to see buzzbands like The Men and Iceage would require a lot of line-camping. Imagine our surprise when we were handed cards that read “CONVERSE® RUBBER TRACKS presents ICEAGE THE MEN GRMLN PLASTIC PLATES MIAMI HORROR – FREE – 21+” Free? What about the wristbands? Did they actually just sell so few they had to make this show—featuring two of the most buzzed about rock bands of the past couple years—free? The empty streets of Echo Park (and the ease with which we had found parking) seemed to indicate that this was the case. As did the complete lack of a line. And the fact that doors didn’t open until 7:30 and the dude at the door hardly knew what we were talking about when asking where to get our FMCC wristbands. So after we figured it out on our own, finding time on our hands, we popped over to Stories Books for somewhere to hang out.

Weird Moment #2 of the night came when we found the young Danes of Iceage gathered around a table in Stories drinking tea. They scare me, so I didn’t attempt any conversation. After finding neither of the books I’ve been looking for for months at Stories (where is Powell’s when you need it?), we headed down two doors to Origami Vinyl where psych-pop band Light Thieves were playing an un-FMCC affiliated in-store and where the greasy New Yorkers of The Men were perusing the dollar bins (Weird Moment #3). I said to guitarist Nick Chiericozzi that I was stoked for the show. He nodded.

We went back to the Converse® Rubber Tracks Stage at the Echo, musing at the bizarreness of the empty room. CAC opined that maybe folks would be showing up in a bit, after GRMLN‘s set. Said set ended up being entirely unmemorable—three days later, the only thing I can say about GRMLN’s music is that the vocal processing their frontman used was kind of fun. The Men were up next (“Welcome to the Converse stage by Converse,” said bassist Ben Greenberg by way of introduction) and they played a pretty standard Men set, which is to say that I recognized maybe two songs out of nine. Part of the issue was that I never really got into their newest album, this year’s New Moon, but the Men are so prolific that the chances of any of the setlist aside from rockin’ opener “I Saw Here Face” being songs from that album that I just didn’t recognize are pretty slim. The Men are a fun band, though, with a lot of energy, no matter what they’re playing. All three members of the front line—Chiericozzi, Greenberg, and guitarist Mark Perro—share vocal duties, and their various apings of various styles come off as more than just mimicry because they’re actually really good at writing songs. Oddly enough, even when they rocked out real hard on some punkier tracks, no one in the audience was really moving. At all (WM #4). Plus there were still only like 20 people in the crowd. The bald dude in the glasses and bucket hat next to me seemed to be enjoying himself, but no one else seemed to stoked on the set until Chiericozzi started singing Open Your Heart highlight “Candy,” which was definitely improved by new member Kevin Faulkner’s pedal steel.

Next up were Iceage. I saw these motherfuckers back in March and it was one of the greatest shows of my life. These four Danes are barely in their twenties, but they play their industrial-tinged punk like it’s life or death. Aside from furious frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, no one on stage moves. Ever. Including Rønnenfelt, no one smiles. Ever. Banter is limited to the announcement of song titles. So I thought I knew what to expect. I was a bit concerned (rightfully) when Rønnenfelt got on stage, mic in his one gloved hand, intoned “AWAKE,” and no one seemed to care. “Awake” is a fantastic song, and yet this crowd was just not having it. Second song “Everything Drifts,” though, found me and six or so other dudes slamming into each other a bit, which I guess was refreshing, if sort of low-key. What you want at an Iceage show is a devoted following of quasi-fascist punk rockers who scream along to every word. What we had here were about four of those, Bucket-Hat Dude, a middle-aged Asian lady, and a bunch of people drinking the sponsored Tiger® tallboys under the Converse®-poster-plastered walls and sort of nodding their heads.

WM #5 came when one of these tallboys, only half empty, struck Rønnenfelt in the face only a song-and-a-half-in. He seemed pretty much unphased but this is when everything started to go to shit. The band rolled through a few new tracks, including their just-out cover of Bahamutsi Drama Group’s “To The Comrades.” Somewhere along the line, guitarist John Surrballe Wieth’s guitar cut out, but he kicked something on his pedalboard and was back in action. No such luck when Jakob Tvilling Pless overdrove his backlined bass amp into submission. “Fuck. Something’s wrong. Give us five minutes and we will play the second half of the set.” They swapped to the other bass stack on stage, and started to mic it. They managed to rush through “You’re Nothing” and “You’re Blessed,” an excellent one-two-punch, started another new song, and then Wieth’s guitar cut out again. He kicked at his pedalboard, it came back on, they finished the song. Then up came the violently strummed opening chord of fan favorite “Ecstasy.” The guitar cut out again, and Rønnenfelt said “Fuck this.” He, Pless, and drumer Dan Kjær Nielsen began to walk of stage, but Wieth was not giving up so easily. With another kick, he started what initially seemed to be the Most Thrilling Comeback Ever. The rest of the band got back into position, and then out went the guitar again. “Fuck this, we’re done.” As the band stalked off the stage, crowd applauding, Rønnenfelt asked us, “Why the fuck are you clapping? This fucking sucks.” And that was the end of that. WM #6. While the set being cut short was a minor tragedy, Iceage were totally on point for the 20 minutes they actually managed to play, and I can’t say I was too upset, given the impossibly low energy of the crowd. I left the Converse® stage a little befuddled eager to see what new corporate glory awaited me tomorrow.

Friday

Friday at FMCC was actually kind of the reason I ended up going to Culture Collide, as I learned that it was the LA date on Fuck Buttons‘ North American tour and there was no way I was going to miss them. I arrived at the newly rechristened ASCAP We Create Music® stage at The Echo early enough to catch a tiny bit of Mujuice‘s electronic set. The Russian dance musician is apparently something of a star in Moscow, but his work felt pretty dated to me. I was tempted to yell something in Russian to him about his Daniel Johnston t-shirt, but I restrained myself and headed over to the (shockingly unsponsored) Front Lounge stage at TAIX, the crazy-huge French restaurant that was hosting two separate stages for the weekend. Apparently this is where everyone was hiding last night: TAIX was packed to the gills with cocktail-consuming thirty-somethings. I caught the last song of Mexican band Vicente Gayo‘s frenetic set and vowed to myself to catch their full set on Saturday. Other highlights of my pre-Fuck Buttons evening included thinking I heard a secret set by the xx coming from the Onitsuka Tiger® Champagne Room and finding instead Float Fall, a co-ed Belgian duo who sound more like the xx than the xx do anymore, and a few seconds of oddness from Polish band Brodka. Then there was a set by the incredibly entertaining Dutchmen of Birth Of Joy.

These guys were shipped sraight in from 1969. Silk shirts, muttonchops, endless chorus on the frontman’s guitar, lyrics about “teenyboppers”, a goddamned organist, epic Keith Moon rolls at the end of every song. While it seemed like complete pastiche, and set a record for quite how behind-the-times many of these international bands felt, Birth Of Joy’s set was sort of a peak in terms of showmanship, as frontman and drummer simultaneously took of their shirts, frontman asked us if we were ready to rock and then leapt in the air, everyone pulled lots of rock faces, etc. It made me wonder if perhaps showmanship at these events is really reserved for tiny foreign bands. I had to presume that anyone FILTER would ship to LA must actually be a big-ish deal in their home country, and to break into the American market would probably be huge for them. Compared to the American acts I saw, the international bands definitely put way more effort into performing.

Case in point: Kid Karate, the Irish duo who opened for Fuck Buttons back at the ASCAP® stage. These guys couldn’t have been ripping off the White Stripes harder if they’d tried, but I guess I’m being slightly unfair. What they did was more of a modernization of the Stripes’ decidedly retro sound. Does that sound like a good thing? It wasn’t. The Samurai-bunned frontman leaned so heavily on his octave pedal to fill out their sound that I felt like I was perpetually stuck inside “Blue Orchid.” The bass and piano tracks that were pumped out of some pedal felt way too canned. Songs repeated their wordless hooks so often that I couldn’t wait for them to end. The drummer’s skull cap made me wonder what it was with the Irish and skullcaps. All that said, these dudes put on a fucking show. I never knew what a nice stage move high-knees while shredding would be, but it worked really well for Kid Karate, as did the five or six leaps on and off stage the frontman made in their final hurrah. As CAC said to me, this band was a fortuitous pick for FMCC, as they’ll probably be regulars on KROQ in a couple years.

Compared to Kid Karate, Fuck Buttons were a tame, tame set. Visually, that is. Sonically, there’s no one on par with this British duo currently working. My love for their thoroughly menacing, utterly incredible, intricate-as-fuck new album Slow Focus knows pretty much no bounds. It’s easily my most played album of the year. You can listen to that thing fifty times and find new elements every single time. The emotional response Fuck Buttons wring out of their electronic palette makes it hard for me to even consider them an electronic band. Also: that cover art is impeccable.

I’d seen Fuck Buttons twice before, and knew basically what their setup would look like. Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power facing each other at opposite ends of a table coated in cords, boxes, and a Speak-n-Spell, a floor tom at Power’s side for use during Street Horrrsing closer “Colors Move.” What I didn’t quite expect was how fucking loud this band could be in a small club setting like The Echo. I don’t know when my ears are going to stop ringing—any disappointment about the volume of My Bloody Valentine at FYF was erased as their English compatriots spent 70 minutes violating my eardrums. Fuck Buttons make noise music, but it’s more music than noise. It just happens to be made up of sounds you wouldn’t expect to find in music—they grate, they burn, they decimate. Power screams through his tiny Speak-n-Spell mic, Hung pushes piercing shrieks through a processed mic. Bucket hat dude was next to me again, blissing out. I realized that no matter what else happened this weekend, no matter the weirdness of the previous night’s events, no matter how much I ended up owing for the fender bender I’d just gotten in that afternoon, the sheer transcendence Fuck Buttons brought me to through sonic devastation erased it all. When they hit the 50 minute mark and started playing “Sentients,” I suddenly knew what was coming for the rest of the set, and I knew that it would be 20 minutes of glory, as “Sentients” faded into “The Red Wing” and they closed their set with the descending riff of “Hidden XS.” CAC and I walked out of the venue, discussing the fate of our hearing. As two fire trucks rushed by, we realized they weren’t loud at all. It had been a good night.

Saturday

CAC had other obligations Saturday night, so he passed his wristband off to an even better companion: my girlfriend. We arrived in time to catch Vicente Gayo‘s set in the Onitsuka Tiger® Champagne Room, which was pretty sweet. Based on the one song I’d seen on Thursday, I had them pegged as Mexico’s answer to Foals. Two floppy-haired songs in, Girlfriend said to me, “They’re like the Mexican Foals!” And While the comparison is super apt, these guys deserve more credit than that. They were relentlessly energetic, all four members shouting either in unison or call-and-response, the guitarists tapping like Eddie Van Halen himself, the drummer pounding his skins like he wanted to break them. They pretty much rocked, in short. Check them out if they ever come back north from the Distrito Federal.

During Vicente Gayo’s set, my friend Dustin bumped into and joined us. A few songs in, he started frantically tapping my shoulder. “That guy who just walked by? That’s Moby!” Sure enough, it was. And much to my surprise, it was Bucket Hat Man from the past two nights! This was probably Weird Moment #27. After standing next to him for an awkwardly long time, we took a picture so we could make our Moby-obsessed friend jealous. So, yeah, that’s how I met Moby, I guess.

We went outside to the Ernie Ball® World Stage, past the New Amsterdam® straight-razor barber station (not kidding), the Aqua Hydrate® photo booth, and the lit up sign for the upcoming Levi’s® Rhye show at The Echo Park United Methodist Church. As far as I can tell, The Church was the only stage with no sponsor. Leave it to religion to stay out of corporate dealings, right? Funky monkeys King Khan & The Shrines came on just in time to distract me from my anti-corporate fervor, but their bizarrely short set (After Khan announced that they were done, the rest of the silver-caped band looked about as puzzled as we were) wasn’t long enough to distract me from the emptiness of the entire festival. “Where the fuck is everybody?” I asked for the fiftieth time. Then Girlfriend offered the brilliant insight that pretty much every venue we’d been to was 21 and up. This is what happens when you don’t invite the kids, FILTER. Take heed next year, and maybe you’ll actually be able to halfway sell out your incredibly cheap and ideally rad festival. As I gazed up into the sky, I noticed the FMCC logo emblazoned by a projector onto the CitiBank tower down the street. This was probably the weekend’s most iconic image. I mused for a while about how these completely over-the-top corporate sponsorships were sort of sucking the life out of the thing, life that could easily have been replaced by the addition of adolescent fervor. I thought that it was pretty fucked up that Iceage weren’t allowed to play to their key demographic at a free show, that those kids couldn’t get their ears torn up by Fuck Buttons, and that even at this lovely outdoor stage, the crowd for Liars was bizarrely old and square.

Liars set was a pretty excellent close to the weekend for me, and served well to distract my from my disenchantment. The last time I saw the band was over four years ago, right after the release of Sisterworld, which is probably only their third or fourth best record. One album later, that would be last year’s WIXIW (#2 in my mind), and they’re an entirely different band. Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross pretty much abandoned organic instruments for WIXIW, a marked change from only two records ago on their self-titled album, when Liars were most decidedly a guitar rock band. Their live set definitely reflected this change, opening with two almost guitarless tracks from career peak Drum’s Not Dead, the one-two percussion-heavy punch of “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack” and “A Visit From Drum.” Following this intro, the bright-green-slicker sporting, Neanderthalesque Andrew led the band through a few new tracks, all of which followed the general WIXIW pattern of arpeggiators and sampler-based beats. We got that album’s highlights “WIXIW” and “No. 1 Against The Rush,” along with “Brats” and “Flood To Flood,” as well as Sisterworld‘s vicious “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant”. Somewhere in the middle of it all, a long-haired hippie girl who seemed to be on vast quantities of MDMA got up on stage not once but twice to dance along, grinningly, with the music. Initially I thought it was part of the show, but the security guys’ response indicated otherwise. Liars closed their set obligatorily with fan favorite “Plaster Casts Of Everything,” which is still one of the most awesome demonstrations of this band’s power as a three-piece rock outfit. Six albums into their career, Liars have proven that they can do whatever the fuck they want and do it well, our “What the fuck is going on?” neighbors be damned. Also: Andrew is a great performer, seeming simultaneously blitzed out of his mind and entirely in control of the proceedings. It might just be his imposing height.

At home, after the festival was all done and finished, my ears still ringing from Fuck Buttons, I spent some time with FILTER’s half-mag guide to try and figure out what was going on that whole time. A cover article on Moby (who apparently sat on some panel at some point over the weekend), a goofy interview with Liars about the hidden charms of LA, and a completely bizarre ode to School Of Seven Bells’ Ben Curtis’ cancer diagnosis later, I’m still not sure at all what FILTER Magazine’s Culture Collide is. But damn if I don’t want me some brand new Onitsuka Tigers to wear while drinking my New Amsterdam G&T and playing my Ernie Ball strung guitar. Or maybe I’ll go with Converse.

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LIVE: FYF Fest 2013 – 08/24-25

By Gabriel Mathews

FYF FEST, LA State Historic Park, Los Angeles, August 24-25, 2013

If you’re not an Angeleno, or even if you are but you live west of Western, you probably don’t know about FYF. So to fill you in, it all began ten years ago when this guy named Sean Carlson evidently grabbed a bunch of bands he thought were cool, booked the Echo for a day, and had said bands play there. He called it the Fuck Yeah Fest, and it ignited a punk rock fire under the asses of the Los Angeles youth. I don’t really know what happened in the intervening few years, but by year six of the fest, it had moved to the dry, dusty pit north of Chinatown known as the LA State Historic Park and I moved to Los Angeles and became a regular attendee. Last year, it turned into a two-day event for the first time, and this year, the Fest celebrated its 10th Anniversary. Somewhere along the way, FYF ceased to be a mere festival and became one of the best across-the-board show organizers in the area, putting on excellent punk, metal, electronic, etc. shows all over town. I see Mr. Carlson and his small band of acolytes at most shows I attend, even the non-FYF ones.

This year was my fifth FYF Fest. Every year it’s gotten a little bit bigger, a little bit better, and a little bit worse. But more on that later—let’s talk about what actually went down!

DAY 1

The gates into the dusty hellhole that (normally) is the LASHP opened at two, and I was there around 2:45. There was no real line, so after collecting the free water bottle I got for riding Metro to the show and getting my drinking wristband, I wandered in and headed over to the Miranda Stage (the smallest of this years Sex and the City themed stages) to wait for Waxahatchee’s 3:20 set. Imagine my surprise when some rad power-trio I’d never heard of were tearing up the stage! The first act of the day, Buffalo’s Lemuria set the bar real high. I mentioned them briefly in my recent review of Titus Andronicus, but they deserve more attention here. Frontwoman Sheena Ozzella shrieked and wailed in a timbre reminiscent of Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, bassist Max Baylor was all smiles and pogos, and drummer/primary songwriter Alex Kerns tore up his skins like someone who should be much more famous than he his. The band played super tight together, and hit some epic hooks which I later learned belonged to songs like “Lipstick,” “Pants,” and “Ruby.” If you dig Rilo Kiley, but wish they were way rougher around the edges and more plugged in, check these guys out. Especially live. Or if not live, especially on their debut, Get Better.

Waxahatchee is a band with zero stage presence, but a rare ability to captivate anyway. Katie Crutchfield’s sophomore album, Cerulean Salt has been an obsession of mine all year, and she certainly didn’t disappoint in power-trio format. She even rearranged several American Weekend songs for the full band treatment. Interestingly, a lot of songs were slowed down, or even switched to waltz time. This made it sort of hard to sing along with songs like “American Weekend” and “Brother Bryan,”  but certainly helped the songs to sink their claws into my heart and freeze it. Crutchfield’s confessionals are treasures, and deserve the attention they’re getting.

From the Miranda Stage, I made a beeline for the Charlotte Stage (stopping at the Origami Vinyl tent to pick up Lemuria’s most recent album, The Distance Is So Big), where I caught METZ. This band has been receiving a lot of attention for their self-titled 2012 debut, but even more attention for their live performances, honed for something like twelve years of gigging around Toronto. Their brand of post-hardcore favors thudding low-end, screeching high-end, and endless repetition. It’s brutal, and the pit was fittingly wild. That said, I couldn’t help but feel something was missing, and I don’t think it was the sweat-drenched METZ’s fault.

I went and met some friends in the beer garden where we watched Ty Segall from a hill and were largely unimpressed. This dude gets a lot of press, but I really can’t say I get the scene he and fellow FYFer Mikal Cronin run up north in San Francisco. It strikes me as a rehash of things that have been done before and done better. I liked Ty better last year when he played with his Band.

The scene I can get is the one super young punks Joyce Manor are currently the kings of. Every single Hispanic teenager within a five mile radius seemed not only to be at this show, but screaming along with every word. In fact, it seemed they were at the fest exclusively for Joyce Manor’s blink-182-influenced emo-punk. I’ve caught this band a couple times before in random situations, and I’m always shocked by the percentage of words from their two incredibly brief albums the kids at their shows know by heart. Songs like “Beach Community,” “Leather Jacket,” and especially “Constant Headache” are disarmingly catchy, while also exhibiting the finely honed crafstmanship of a band that does little other than play together. Watch as these guys come up, it’ll be a whole lot of fun for your inner teen.

Then it was time. Time to go to the Carrie Stage to watch The Breeders play Last Splash as part of that album’s 20-year anniversary tour. Everyone was on stage—Kim and Kelly Deal apparently took a break from the bands current incarnation to invite bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim McPherson back into the fold so as to best replicate the classic album. In fact, the effort that went into making this sound like an exact plaster cast of Last Splash was pretty impressive. The inimitable Kim Deal sang the “ooOOOoohs” at the start of “Cannonball” into a microphone covered with a paper cup, Kelly plugged into a pocket amp mounted atop a stand and mic’ed for the tin-can sound of “Mad Lucas,” and, since she apparently played drums on the recording, Wiggs stole the throne from McPherson for “Roi.” The band had some great, snide-yet-loving banter going back and forth, thanking each other constantly for the smallest little things (“Thank you, Kelly. Your guitar solo on that song was beautiful.” “You’re welcome, Kim. I appreciated your singing, it was lovely.”), but aside from this, their stage presence was slightly lacking. That is, until Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox came out to sing the “Suuuuummmmerrrr’s reaaaaaadddyyyyyy” part of “Saints,” and gave Kim a big kiss on the cheek. Finding themselves with a little time after “Roi (Reprise),” The Breeders snuck in Pod track “Oh”. While I love the song, I would’ve liked to see them just walk off stage after the feedback ending of Splash, letting it sink in just what a classic we’d just seen recreated.

After an anonymous foodtruck dinner and some time spent wandering around the vendor tents (Stories Books had an excellent setup of recommendations from various bands playing the fest. Spoiler: Everyone loves Vonnegut.), and catching a tiny bit of Dan Deacon‘s unsurprisingly tech-plagued, surprisingly dual-drummered set, I came back to the Carrie Stage for TV On The Radio. This was the fifth time I’d seen them, and I’ve gotta say they haven’t aged a bit. This band still kicks ass (though bassist Gerard Smith was sorely missed, RIP). They also know, thankfully, that their most recent album, Nine Types Of Light, was overwhelmingly mediocre, and mercifully stuck mostly to their excellent back catalog, hitting “Blues From Down Here,” “Staring At The Sun,” and “Dancing Choose”. More exciting than those classics, though, were new tracks “Million Miles” and “Mercy,” the latter of which might rank among the best songs TVOTR has ever written. I’m super stoked for their forthcoming fifth LP, to be released on guitarist/producer Dave SItek’s brand new Federal Prism label.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the night’s headliners, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew Karen O would be a thrill to watch, and I knew that Nick Zinner and Brian Chase are sorely underestimated musicians (Zinner, in particular, is one of my favorite guitar geniuses and I think he deserves about 1,000 times more credit than he gets, simply for the tones he achieves), but this year’s Mosquito left me and apparently a lot of others pretty damn cold. The YYYs, who I’d never seen before, played with characteristic energy, and O did plenty of funny things with her costumes and her microphone, but I left after five songs because less than half of them were songs I cared about (those being “Rich” and “Phenomena”.) Also because I was really far back and it was hard to tell which pedals Zinner was hitting from where I was standing. Also because Death Grips were playing at the other end of the park.

This was Death Grips‘ first show since their now-legendary Lollapalooza no-show performance piece (which I think was utterly brilliant, fuck the haterz), and people had been fretting all day that they might not be present for their set. Having seen them this past spring, I wasn’t too concerned, but I was thrilled to find all three members on set (Andy “Flatlander” Monin, producer, had been absent at the spring show). Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett strutted and writhed with characteristic fury, looking strangely not-human, Zach Hill decimated his stripped down kit, and Flatlander looked like a hacker straight out of The Matrix in a power stance behind his table of doohickeys. This set was even more overwhelming than the one I caught at The Echoplex. Maybe it was the fact that the band was playing over pre-recorded tracks, so the sound was doubled. Maybe it was because, in addition to the constantly moving, flashing, and very red lights coating the stage, Metro trains kept streaking by behind the band. This was actually an awesome touch and I have to wonder if Sean & co. planned it this way, to heighten the sense of acceleration and mechanical intensity Death Grips deliberately foster. I ended up walking away from the stage due to sheer sensory overload when I heard the band play my favorite of their songs, Money Store closer “Hacker.” I was too far away to head back, and plodded sadly out of the park. Moral of the story about Death Grips, though, is that if you haven’t seen them, do. It’s a trance, it’s a dance, it’s a religious experience, it’s like nothing else in music right now.

I went home tired, but not as tired as I should have been. I was ready for Day 2.

DAY 2

I really, really wanted to hit up the comedy tent to catch 2/3 of Human Giant, Paul Scheer & Rob Huebel, but apparently those dudes somehow did not have the last slot of the comedy set. That honor went to Ron Funches, who told the best joke about why to have sex with John Goodman that I’ve ever heard. Check him out.

There wasn’t much I wanted to catch this early in the day, so I wandered over to the Miranda Stage, where my friends were gushing over the king of laziness, Mac DeMarco. I don’t fucking get it. Yeah, the guy is kinda funny, and yeah, his songs are kind of pleasant, but it’s really telling when the best parts of your set are a cover of “Taking Care Of Business” with ad-libbed raps in place of the verses and an amped up rendition of “Bluebird.” Both of these I heard from the neaby RevHQ.com tent (RevHQ clerk: “Are they really covering Bachmann-Turner Overdrive? Really?”), where I bought The Obits’ Moody, Standard and Poor on red vinyl, cursing myself for having not known about Hot Snakes in time for their set at last year’s Fest.

Up next on the little stage was Chelsea Wolfe, who I’d seen once before in a very strange corporate basement at USC’s annual radio station “festival”. Wolfe’s band seemed to be intentionally comprised of people who would look perfect as Chelsea Wolfe’s backing band: there was a hipster ninja drummer, a small, snazzy, mustachioed guitarist, and a Special Agent Dale Cooper-lookalike bassist/keyboardist. (Speaking of Twin Peaks, I saw a Black Flag-knock-off shirt with squiggly bars that read “Black Lodge.” Well played!) All of them wore black. Wolfe, though, perhaps as part of the image change she seems to be going for on the brand new Pain Is Beauty, was decked out in a beige gown with an elaborate train she waved around like wings at various points in her set. The imposingly tall Wolfe has serious pipes, and even if you don’t know any of her epically sad songs, you can’t help but be impressed by the way her voice could probably carry out across the park without amplification.

I migrated over to the Carrie Stage to see a few minutes of Kurt Vile, whose newest record, Walkin On A Pretty Daze I found pretty boring. Vile has a new drummer, and this is really too bad. Oh, well, onward to Samantha’s Tent, where I caught a few How To Dress Well songs. Unfortunately, Vile’s chiming guitars, characteristically Carrie-Stage-too-loud, overpowered Tom Krell’s sensitive white-boy R&B for much of the set. I headed over to the beer garden to eat and watch from the sidelines as No Age showed us just how boring they could be by playing a couple of the drumless songs from brand new album An Object. That said, classics like “Eraser” were still pretty great from where I was sitting.

Up next on the list of things I actually cared about seeing was Beach House, whose newest record, Bloom, I found by-and-large boring (are we detecting a theme here?). That said, the band pulled off a gorgeous set, being TVOTR-like in their ability to pick just the crowd-pleasers out of their mediocre new shit (“Myth,” “Wishes,” “Lazuli,” “The Hours,” aka, the only songs I like off that record), and hitting a lot of great back catalog material, including Devotion’s “Heart Of Chambers,” which, in a foreshadowing move, I think was dedicated to Colm Ó Cíosóig. Beach House’s set made for perfect lover’s rock—everyone around me was making out, and I think that’s just what I needed at this point, as a respite before heading over to The Melvins.

This is a band I clearly need to check out. I went into their set knowing none of their music, and came out wanting to know all of it. Their double-drummer setup kicked the shit out of me, the thundering low-end was awe-inspring, and when the older drummer came out from behind the kit to hula hoop and sing a song whose sole lyric was “MAKE THESE DONUTS WITH EXTRA GREASE! / THIS BATCH IS FOR THE CHIEF OF POLICE!” repeated ad infinitum, The Melvins won me over completely. Too bad I only caught their last ten minutes or so.

Next up on the Miranda Stage was the set I have to, in retrospect, call my favorite of the weekend. Les Savy Fav put on one of the most gloriously deranged and straight up fun shows I’ve ever seen. I’ve always liked LSF, but they’ve never been one of those bands where I need to hear every new album, or check out the whole back catalog. In fact, I’m pretty satisfied knowing little more of their material than fascinating singles-compilaton-project Inches. While his band acted all straight-laced behind him, playing some pretty basic dance-punk grooves, hideous frontman Tim Harrington donned a gold-lamé full-body suit, shone a flashlight out his ass, climbed a tree, fondled his bellybutton, pranced around in his underwear, covered the audience in toilet paper, and crowd surfed on a ladder he treated like a canoe. The crowd went wild for classics like “Patty Lee” and “The Sweat Descends,” and for the first time of the weekend, the pit felt right. This set embodied everything FYF should be (see below): fun, anarchic, dusty, furious, painful, glorious, communal. Well done, LSF (Fun fact: at the Stories Tent, LSF’s recommendations included a children’s book by Harrington called This Little Piggy, and deranged book of illustrations by bassist/Frenchkiss label head Syd Butler entitled Who Farted Wrong?)

It was then time for the moment everyone had been waiting for: My Bloody Valentine on an American tour for the first time since the release of their first album in 22 years, the actually really awesome m b v. Before the band appeared, the stage-side screens read “PROTECT YOUR EARS! Wear Earplugs.” and various anonymous staffers walked around the crowd handing out little foamy pellets. I had been expecting this, and put in my high-tech rubberized plugs right as the band took the stage. And here’s the thing: while nothing can detract from MBV’s utter incredibleness, it wasn’t that loud. Ever since Deerhunter made it impossible for me and my dinner companion to converse 1000 feet away the day before, and Kurt Vile of all people had nearly blown my ears out, I’d been asking myself, “If this is normal, what is MBV?” Turns out, MBV was just about normal. Sure, my ears were ringing for two days at frequencies I’d never heard my ears ring at before, but I blame that on the festival as a whole. Anyway, the Irish legends put on one hell of a show, recreating their painstakingly recorded sound to perfection (Naturally, this required an anonymous third guitarist half the time). Old Loveless classics sounded great, m b v standouts like “Wonder 2” sounded great, and the feedback squall of “You Made Me Realise” was feedbacky and squally. Even through a few episodes of actually blowing out the mains, though, MBV were, through no fault of their own, a slight letdown because they didn’t make my ears bleed. That said, I went home incredibly satisfied because, Christ on a stick, I’d just seen My Bloody Valentine. And a weekend of truly great music.

FYF: LOSING IT’S EDGE?

Even so, I can’t help but have felt something about this year’s Fest was just off. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised: sometime between when it started and the first year I attended, the Fuck Yeah Fest sanded off some of its edges by re-dubbing itself the FYF Fest (Fuck Yeah Fest Fest?) in a bid to be a bit more family friendly (read: corporate). I’m not trying to be some anti-corporate stooge, but this year’s FYF was the fourth in a progression of tipping the scales a little bit more in the favor of “Yeah” over “Fuck.” This was the first year where I’d say I felt the balance was actually off. Why?

Because I was there.

I was there when we had to stand in line for two hours to even enter the park, only to hear over some loudspeakers that Dan Deacon, the main/only reason I went the first year, had cancelled due to illness.

I was there, throat burning because the lines to get water were impossibly long, skin burning because there was no shade anywhere, no misting stations, no amenities, at all really.

I was there, coming out of Death From Above 1979’s triumphant set two years ago, weathered through a complete lack of working monitors, hacking up black dust out of every crevice of my throat, removing my shirt to blow black snot into it, without a voice for a few days because you couldn’t scream along with “Pull Out” without inhaling massive amounts of dirt kicked up in the pit.

In short, I was there when FYF sort of (read: really) sucked. I was there before they brought in ubiquitous Coachella gods Goldenvoice last year to iron out some of the kinks. This year I hardly waited at all to get in, water was abundant, the heat was pretty easy to cope with due to the misting station at the Chili Beans® tent, and the Epic FYF Dust Problem was, for the first time ever, squashed at two out of three stages by massive, industrial plastic floors spread out across the park’s dead grass. And while all of these are, yes, improvements, and, yes, the festival is far more comfortable now than it was in the past, well, the festival is far more comfortable now than it was in the past. And this is kind of sad, because the difficulty inherent in FYF is what bound those of us who were there together. The hardships were what made it stand out of a crowd of similar festivals all over the country. The dust, the thirst, the sunburn, the shitty sound, the crazy lines, the dearth of Port-a-Potties—while all these things really fucking sucked, they also made FYF a unique experience that led to a lot of knowing eye-locks with strangers, a lot of feelings of general connectedness-through-pain (aka “symapthy”), and honestly, a lot of love. Though the music may have been at an all-time-high, atmosphere can be everything, and this year was the first time FYF felt to me like just another festival in a park.

FYF: It’ s time to bring the “Fuck” back.

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LIVE: Titus Andronicus, CFA Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

TITUS ANDRONICUS w/Lemuria and Lost Boy at Center For the Arts, Eagle Rock, 9/12/13

Last night, I saw Titus Andronicus play at the Center For the Arts, Eagle Rock, with Lemuria and Lost Boy opening. Before I go any further, I think a prefatory statement about my relationship with Titus is in order:

I am fucking obsessed with Titus Andronicus. While I didn’t initially enjoy their debut, 2008’s The Airing of Grievances, after their Civil-War-as-Doomed-Relationship magnum opus The Monitor came out in 2010, I fell in love, reevaluated the first album, and went and saw the band at The Bootleg for what was one of the best, most narratively epic nights of my life. I proceeded to catch them at FYF Fest the following summer, and then opening for Okkervil River at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland a year later. In the fall of my junior year of college, I took a class on the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, for which I wrote a 30-page term paper on the Nietzschean themes of The Monitor. (In a beautiful twist, it was initially Nietzsche that seemed Andronicusian to me, rather than the other way around.) Yes, I sent the paper to Mr. Andronicus himself, Patrick Stickles. Yes, he read it and responded enthusiastically at 3 AM (Apparently I was the first person ever to realize the album’s narrative started at track three? C’mon, people!). And yes, I giggled like a little girl and probably pissed myself a little. I definitely pissed myself when he proceeded to tweet about how my email was perhaps the best he’d ever received and that he suddenly understood new things about the relationship that sparked The Monitor. (If anyone here has not yet checked out Stickles’ twitter, do so immediately.) A year later, I was station manager at KOXY, Occidental College’s radio station (former post of YACHT’s Claire L. Evans and Nite Jewel’s Ramona Gonzales, thank you very much), and I used my clout and the college’s money to bring Titus to campus shortly after they released their excellent third record Local Business. The show was plagued with electrical difficulties, and many songs were cut in half by power outages (I still curse that faulty power strip to this day), but the band rolled with the punches like the pros/good guys they are, everyone had a blast, and it was one of the most glorious nights of my life.

tl;dr: I am fucking obsessed with Titus Andronicus.

So seeing them last night at CFAER was something I’d been looking forward to with immense excitement to for months. When I saw that Lemuria, who I recently discovered accidentally at FYF (which, by the way, I hope to cover in some depth here in the near future) while waiting for Waxahatchee to go on, was added to the bill, I was even more stoked. The night finally came, and here’s how it went down.

Lost Boy were pretty fucking boring, lazy rock in the vein of Mac DeMarco and all those other boring people. Please pass over them so they can disappear quietly. Buffalo, NY power trio Lemuria did a great job just doing their thing. Drummer/primary songwriter Alex Kerns is a national gem, and the band sounded simultaneously on point and rough-edged. (Note: These guys make good albums, but it’s live where they shine with a toughness not evident on the recordings. Catch them if you have the chance.)

Then Titus. By this point, the excitement in the room was palpable. This is unsurprising: the best thing about any Titus show is not the band’s energy, nor the setlist, nor the between song banter, nor anything the band even do themselves. It’s the sense of community that comes from moshing like crazy and shouting along with lines like “YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A LOSER!” and “YOUR LIFE IS OVER!” with 50-100 other 100% fully stoked people. Patrick Stickles has a way of speaking directly to the souls of many, while maintaining a very personal, very confessional lyrical style that you wouldn’t expect to light a fire in all these the hearts. His words impress on several levels—narrative ability, verbosity, abundant references literary and geographical, and especially in their emotional resonance and ensuing uplift. That said, Stickles is something of a grouch (He’s bipolar and has a rare eating disorder that allows him to consume about five different foods, so it’s no surprise), and you don’t go to a Titus show expecting the guy to be all buddy-buddy with you and your friends or to grin ecstatically while watching the crowd shout along with every word.

Even so, I was actually surprised when the band took the stage and Patrick had himself set up so he faced stage right, where bear-like guitarist Adam Reich was sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers 59Fifty and soloing his meanest solos ever. Stickles occasionally turned to face the audience, but spent most of the set staring intently at Adam, with his back to bassist Julian Veronesi, who seemed to just be kickin’ it in his own little world.

A word on the lineup: in the five Titus shows I’ve been to I’ve seen three different bands. The only constant aside from Stickles is drummer Eric Harm, who I’m guessing has immense reserves of patience simply untenable by others. If I had to pick a favorite, this four-piece would definitely not be it (I’d probably go with the first version I ever saw, which featured stalwart bassist Ian Graetzer and the perpetually excited Amy Klein on guitar and electric violin, as well third guitarist/keyboardist Dave Robbins.), but they definitely play real tight together, even after the recent loss of third guitarist Liam Betson to Canada/engagement. Anyway, moving on.

The setlist was a bit of a surprise—light on The Monitor, wildly heavy on Grievances. They played five of that album’s nine songs, including quasi-throwaways like “Joset Of Nazareth’s Blues” and “My Time Outside The Womb” and not including either part one or two of the amazing “No Future” suite. They also hit on a few new songs, which are slated to appear on the band’s recently announced fourth record, a 30+ song rock opera about a young man with bipolar disorder trying to find love in this rough-and-tumble modern world. The first and most fun of these was the thirty-second hardcore blast of “Look Alive,” which Stickles introduced with a description of the album’s first act: “We find our hero in that classic struggle of trying to first get out of bed and then leave the house. Spoiler alert: . . . it doesn’t happen.” The set sagged a bit in the middle, even as Patrick removed his shirt in the boiling heat of the venue, with a few middling new tracks, what seemed like a cover that I didn’t recognize at all, and an impossibly slow rendition of devastating Monitor ballad “To Old Friends And New.” (This one featured the best, and maybe only, bit of real audience interaction, when Stickles halted mid-verse to stare fireily into the eyes of a guy sitting on his friend’s shoulders. After a few seconds he pointed straight at the dude and said “This is what you want, isn’t it? Alright, everyone’s eyes back on me.” Then he picked up where he left off.) Despite this sag, we still got hit parades at start and finish: Local Business trio “In A Big City,” “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus” and “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter” opened the set, while “Four Score And Seven,” “No Future Part Three” and “Titus Andronicus” closed it out. Lord knows why they went with “(I Am The) Electric Man” over, say, “My Eating Disorder,” or “Richard II,” but, hey, can’t complain too much. (I was really, really sad, though, that they didn’t do “The Battle Of Hampton Roads,” which has closed out at least three of the other TA sets I’ve seen. But I give them a free pass because that one probably requires three guitars, and maybe even a some bagpipes.)

The crowd, an incredibly important factor at any Titus show, receives a B+. It would have been perfect were there not the two or three incredibly belligerent assholes who decided to bull-charge everyone whenever possible, but those guys always bring a show down a bit. I’ve always found the pit at Titus shows to be amazingly friendly, and to find such cretins here was quite a comedown. Where’s the fun in behaving this way? Save the violence for Mayhem concerts. Also, a quick shoutout to the CFAER, which has provided me, as a Northeast LA resident, with countless awesome opportunities and events and a lot of very very cheap beer, though not very much cool air.

When my friends and I left the Center, though, utterly drenched through with sweat both ours and not, a couple of strange reactions bubbled to the surface. My friend Landon, who perhaps idolizes Patrick Stickles even more than I do, was somewhat infuriated by a variety of factors: the dickheads in the crowd, the weird setlist that seemed to him like a “fuck you”, and Stickles’ general refusal to seem like he was having a good time. Landon makes a solid point that touring the fuck out of songs which are designed as intense personal revelations can lead them to lose a lot of their heft and meaning, but I can’t say I blame Stickles & co. for not being able to maintain their emotional wallop at all times. My girlfriend had an entirely different response. She’d never been to a Titus show before, and had only really heard their music when I played her The Monitor earlier in the day as preparation. She found that, perplexingly, she couldn’t even tap her foot to this “pop punk,” (Ah, metalheads…) and was utterly baffled by the insane adulation pouring out of myself and everyone else in the pit. This led me to think about what makes Titus Titus, and I have to come back to the lyrics—Titus Andronicus would be just another rock band, albeit a skilled one, were it not for Stickles incredible soul-bearing verses. His words tie grand Nietzschean philosophy and small-scale, day-to-day challenges like getting out of bed into one giant mess that it’s damn hard not to relate to. And for this, I love them.

So was I, like my companions, disappointed by the show? No, though I guess I’d say it scores fourth out of the five Titus shows I’ve seen. I see Landon’s points, and it really is important to ask whether a song resonates less with each repetition. But I have to think about the perils of being a touring band, about the authenticity that is almost impossible to maintain, and about the undeniable fact that bands morph and change and you either have to roll with it or find yourself saddened. I also have to go take a shower, I still have those asshats’ sweat on me.

(PS: In case you were wondering, yes, I talked to Patrick before the show, and yes, he still thinks my paper is the best piece of criticism his work has ever received. He also promises that it will take a much longer paper to work through album number four, but he says he’ll write it this time. I can’t wait.)

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LIVE: Blonde Redhead at The El Rey

Blonde Redhead w/ The Mast, El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, CA – 9/03/13Blonde Redhead // Photo Credit: Los Anjealous
By Gabriel Mathews
My relationship with Blonde Redhead is probably a lot like that of most fans my age. I started listening to them sometime in high school, when 23 was pretty new and its sleek sound and driving beats, coupled with Kazu Makino’s sex-kitten mewling and husband Amadeo Pace’s nasal groaning somehow hit me just right. Songs like “SW,” “By Spring and Summer Fall,” “Dr. Strangeluv,” and the title track all hit a certain sweet spot for unintelligible suaveness, just moving enough to be interesting but not more than a couple layers of dead skin deep.
Then I moved backwards—Misery Is A Butterfly was like a rougher-around-the-edges version of 23, with more baroque flourishes and less Flood. Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons had a few highlights (most obviously the fan favorite pop jam “This Is Not”) but mostly left me cold. Their early nineties one-two punch of Fake Can Be Just As Good and In An Expression of the Inexpressible didn’t do much for me initially, but when I started listening to the shit that influenced them (Sonic Youth, Unwound, Fugazi) those two albums became the epitome of what Blonde Redhead stood for to me— dueling atonal guitars matched by even less tonal yelping, pummeling drums, and even less decipherable lyrics. Derivative, perhaps, but these kids had some serious energy, and put more sex in the sound than most of their inspirations, even when those inspirations were producing their albums and playing bass for them (see Guy Picciotto and Vern Rumsey).
But after their entirely blah newest record, 2010’s Penny Sparkle, ditched the guitars for synths and BR moved all the way into the lounge, I had no clue what to expect from this one-off show at the El Rey.
Turns out, Blonde Redhead can still rock. Only hitting on Penny Sparkle via its two singles early on in the set, the band chugged through a series of 23 and Misery highlights, hitting “This Is Not” to rapturous cheers and “Melody Of Certain Damaged Three” for a bit more noise. Amedeo and Kazu’s chemistry was infectious as their playing intertwined, Kazu’s energy being especially enticing (and damn sexy). While they didn’t play anything older than Melody, I can’t say the show was even the slightest bit disappointing, even for a fan of their old shit.
What surprised me even more than the band’s consistent quality was their fans’ unadulterated adulation. A band that gets constant flak for unoriginality, whatever they’re doing inspires a whole lot of love from their fans, who didn’t stop screaming things like “Marry me!” and “FUCK YEAHHHHH” throughout the set. Every song got a huge reaction, even the Penny cuts. Blonde Redhead may be heavy on style and light on substance, but it doesn’t seem their fans (whose median age reminded me just how long these guys have been around) mind at all.
When Makino dedicated the last song of their encore to the producer of their new album (who was apparently somewhere in the audience), I was expecting them to play what would have been the first new track of the night. Instead, they surprised me with one of my personal favorites, Misery closer “Equus.” In this song, Makino shrieks “Allow me to show you the way which I adore you.” That night, Blonde Redhead did nothing but that, and fans old and young returned the favor.
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