Tag Archives: Washington

LIVE: Royal Headache, Chop Suey, Seattle, WA


By Gabriel Mathews

I hope I can be forgiven for expecting something a little more frightening from VHS’s opening set at Chop Suey on Monday. Their name does, after all, stand for “Violent Human System,” a name which like, say, High-Functioning Flesh or Criminal Code or Stoic Violence implies some sort of disturbed intensity and perverse anger that was not present on stage with the sleeveless RUN-DMC tees in VHS. Their frontman, who actually drums for Criminal Code and whose name I’m having a damn hard time tracking down, wears his bleach-blond bowl cut in direct homage to Greg Sage, a comparison that has clearly been made many a time. That said, if there’s any great PNW band that hasn’t been ripped off enough, it’s Wipers, and VHS actually do a pretty good job of it, though they need two guitars to pull of what Sage did with one. Bowl-cut’s singing voice is a nasal bellow in Sage’s direct lineage, and his melodic sensibility produces a pretty straight Is This Real? vibe very easily. That said, I don’t want to pigeonhole VHS too hard—they show promise for growth and are clearly skilled musicians, and as I said, more Wipers-apes wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

I’m not sure I can give such credit to Dude York. These guys apparently formed at Whitman College, where if I had to guess they bonded over a shared love of mid-period Weezer and cheap irony. They’re not bad at what they do, and I especially enjoyed when bassist Claire England took over vocals from the unbelievably boyish Peter Richards, whose onstage persona is drenched in the all-too-common-in-Seattle-punk white-boy happy-go-lucky nihilism to the point of alienation at the expense of the music. His heckling of the sparse crowd—“Who’s having a good time?!” “Wow, you guys are all so great!” “Nice physical action! We endorse physicality of all kinds!”—felt so disingenuous and patronizing that I had a bit of trouble staying in the room. Dude York’s songs are tight, their power chords are powerful, and drummer Andrew Hall has some neat tricks up his sleeves. But why should I take a band seriously when it’s clear they have no intention of taking themselves seriously? (All this aside, points for writing a song called “No One In My Life Can Hear Me Scream.”)

Australia’s Royal Headache had just crossed the pond before playing this, the first show of their tour, as frontman Shogun was quick to point out. “I am so fucking jet-lagged,” he said before they even started, and he never really stopped complaining. Tearing out of the gate with “Really In Love,” a highlight from their self-titled debut and then rushing through a few new ones, Shogun and company (Law on guitar, Joe on bass, and Shorty on drums) were a blast for the first ten minutes of their set. Shogun has one of the best voices in punk rock, one which garners him frequent comparisons to such soul greats as Sam Cooke, and which really sets the band apart from other garage-rock clacissists. But he really comes across more as a Robert Pollard imitator on stage, both vocally and physically, with high-kicks and arm-flails abounding. A few songs in, though, it was clear that fatigue was setting in, as he sat down on the cinder-block Shorty used to keep his kick drum in place. Eventually, at Shogun’s request, a stool was brought out for him, and between every song he’d make some comment about how he was too old for this, wanted to do a slow one next, or how he needed a personal trainer.

The set was still a lot of fun—songs like “Down The Lane,” “Psychotic Episode” and the incredible “Girls” still ripped, as did tracks from their forthcoming second album, High, particularly bangers like “Garbage” and the title track. The uniform brown hair/white tee of the band offset the emaciated, shirtless, red-headed Shogun in a nice way that didn’t seem premeditated and added a bit of spectacle even when he was sitting down. But it’s hard for me to swallow a guy saying “This is a song about fake punks” (“Another World”) from a stool. Here’s to hoping Shogun gets his energy back before squandering what ought to be a killer tour.

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LIVE: Torres, Barboza, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

I’ll say this up front — The thing that excited me most when I heard Torres was coming out with a new album was the list of her collaborators. Sprinter features Rob Ellis and Ian Olliver of the PJ Harvey trio on drums/production and bass, respectively, and Portishead’s Adrian Utley on guitar. While McKenzie Scott’s debut as Torres featured a few near-perfect songs, it also tended to blur together and featured some really ham-fisted lyrics. My hope was that this band of luminaries (which, by the way, how the hell did a twenty-two year-old with a single self-released album to her name get these guys on board?) would help elevate her music to the rocking levels their names connote. I had heard they were touring with her, and was incredibly excited to see what this band could do together.

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LIVE: Pile, Black Lodge, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Having had a really awful time the last time I went to a show at ultra-covert squat venue the Black Lodge, I’ve been wary of shows there ever since. The place seems designed to draw the type of intentionally impoverished youths who sneer at the very notion of creature comforts while playing expensive guitars and smelling bad.

That said, there’s no way I was going to pass up this show. I discovered Pile’s music a few weeks back, and I’ve listened to almost nothing else since. The Boston band’s completely idiosyncratic style finds old country/blues basics trashed through a post-hardcore blender, and then spiced with classical-esque chord progressions that you just don’t really hear in contemporary music. Their two most recent albums (out of five, not three, as much of the music press seems to think), 2012’s Dripping and last month’s You’re Better Than This testify to their immense skill, while cementing their reputation as a “band’s band” — Pile have an incredibly devoted national following, made up largely of fellow musicians. Chalk it up to the ease with which they execute strikingly odd melodic turns, rhythmic shifts, and their incredible sense of dynamics. Add to this frontman Rick Maguire’s brilliantly deranged lyrics about playground perverts, demon lovers, and wet dreams about second grade teachers and you have a band with an immense amount of appeal to a very specific set of people. Those people care deeply about what Pile is up to, and have helped them achieve their reputation for transcendentally amazing shows.

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

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

Seattle, WA – Barboza, November 1st

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

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LIVE: Rural Alberta Advantage, The Crocodile, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

There are two types of Canadian bands. The first and more prevalent is incredibly, ceaselessly earnest. See: Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers, Tegan And Sara, Constantines.

The second is much less frequently spotted: the band or artist that rejects the Canada-earnest mode in favor of jacked-up sleaze which is often so over the top that it comes back around to just feeling straight up sincere in it’s sleaziness. See: Death From Above 1979, Peaches, and, apparently, July Talk.

Twenty seconds into July Talk’s first song, I learned what I was getting myself into at the Crocodile. Peter Dreimanis had just sung the first verse, and it was time for co-leader Leah Fay to take the mic. As she began to sing, Dreimanis put one hand over her eyes and the knuckles of the other in his teeth, looking knowingly into the eyes of the crowd. This hyped-up sexuality was characteristic of the band’s entire set, as Dreimanis and Fay fondled each other pretty much ceaselessly. Fay poured water on Dreimanis’ head, Dreimanis ruffled Fay’s hair, they kissed each other’s necks, they fed each other booze, going all night for some sort of heated Doe/Cervenka, or Mosshart/Hince, or Boeckner/Perry (to use a Canadian example) chemistry. It’s hard to deny the magnetism of this performance— I’ve never seen such over-the-top sexualization out of a rock band. They were expert showmen, and any concern I’d initially had about the sort of disgusting objectification of Fay during the first song dissipated as I saw what a mutually objectifying stage relationship they seemed to have. Their showmanship was overall quite good, lot’s of “How’re you doing Seattle?!” “We’re so excited to be in the States!” “It’s Friday night, are you guys ready to have some fucking fun?!” Dreimanis likes to slap himself and bark, Fay likes to pour Jameson into the mouths of the front row.

It’s too bad the music didn’t really hold up. Dreimanis does an unforgivably Waitsian growl over the top of some weirdly modern rock-ized country/Americana. Guitarist Ian Docherty is good, and Fay is a decent enough singer, but nothing about these songs really stood out, which maybe explains the emphasis on performed sexuality. The only thing I could really think about the entire time was how intensely said sexuality was coming across and how this band made no sense at all opening for the Rural Alberta Advantage.

The Rural Alberta Advantage are so decidedly planted in that first group of Canadian bands that it actually might pose a threat to their continued relevance. They’ve just released their third album, Mended With Gold, which, while quite good, doesn’t deviate at all from the formula they laid out back in 2008 on the excellent Hometowns, and codified further on 2011’s lukewarm Departing. Said formula consists of Nils Edenloff playing basic, hooky folk-pop songs on an acoustic guitar while singing nasally about love, death, fear, veins, and Alberta, Amy Cole playing minimal keyboards and harmonizing occasionally, and Paul Banwatt absolutely kicking the shit out of a tiny drum kit. The band and anyone who’s ever heard them is fully aware that Banwatt is the primary reason to stick around: without his surgically batshit pummeling, these songs would get pretty tired pretty fast.

Which is not to say they’re not very, very good. In fact, I was impressed that the RAA were able to fill a rather long set with pretty much all great songs. Opening salvo “Stamp,” “Muscle Relaxants,” and “Don’t Haunt This Place” set the bar very high, but the band managed to maintain a level of enthusiasm and professionalism for the entirety of their set that kept even the lesser Departing material pretty exciting. The songs from the new album sounded great, particularly “The Build,” “Terrified,” “On The Rocks,” and “45/33.” Watching Banwatt’s face contort as he stormed through these songs was a perpetual thrill, which made me sad they didn’t hit his Mended showcase “All We’ve Ever Known.” But it was okay because they played nearly all of Hometowns, which has become one of my favorite standby records of the past decade. “Rush Apart,” “The Dethbridge in Lethbridge,” “Luciana,” “Frank, AB,” “Four Night Rider,” “Edmonton”— these songs are all fucking excellent and it was great to see the band hit them all with such enthusiasm.

After a tiny break, the RAA came back on after main-set closer “Dethbridge” for a three song-encore, finishing with “Drain The Blood.” Walking away from the mic, Edenloff led the audience in singing the song’s “ooh-ooh” refrain and clapping to the beat, as Banwatt grabbed a floor tom and Cole grabbed a tambourine. The band then walked out into the audience, climbing eventually up onto a bench in the side of the room to close out the evening with a beautifully un-amplified rendition of “Good Night.” This was a clearly calculated move that I’m sure they’ve done a hundred times, but it worked really well, and the song, which I’ve always found pretty silly, came across as meaningful in this setting. The audience shut up completely for the first time, and I realized that it wasn’t such a marvel that The Rural Alberta Advantage had sold out the Crocodile that night.

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LIVE: How to Dress Well, Neumos, Seattle, WA

By Jacob Gellman

“Two things: it’s so hot in here. And it smells like fucking hot dogs.” Just two songs into his set at Neumos, Tom Krell (a.k.a. How To Dress Well) was feeling the heat. It did smell like fucking hot dogs – a door left ajar on house right was letting a hot dog stand’s odors waft directly into Neumos, filling the Seattle venue with a tear-inducing smoked sausage sensation. “We’ve never taken our shirts off at a show,” Krell regretfully explained, ignoring pleas from audience members to do so anyway.

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LIVE: The Blood Brothers, Showbox, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Having been hungover all day, the red glow emanating from the ceiling of The Showbox felt incredibly appropriate: I am now inside my head. When a girl in the front row passed out two minutes before the show started, that felt about right, too (She was fine, don’t worry). We were, after all, here to see the reunion of hometown heroes The Blood Brothers, who have a the fanbase of an evil Jesus.

But first, Naomi Punk. I have so much to say. I had only listened to a couple of songs before the show, so I kind of knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t know. When three self-consciously weird-looking young dudes stepped onstage, looking like they hadn’t emerged from the Olympia basement where they wrote these songs pretty much ever, they immediately had me stunned. It’s been ages since I’ve seen the guitar-as-instrument made so compelling. Frontman Travis Coster played a low-strung guitar, detuned for maximum weighty impact, while his foil, Neil Gregerson, in all his bowl-cutted glory, worked a regular six-string. The guitars were creatively amped, again for max heaviness. The moment these two started playing, along with brutalist drummer Nicolas Luempert, my jaw fell slightly open and I couldn’t quite move from where I stood.

I’m not really sure how to describe Naomi Punk. They use rock and punk tools and signifiers without making a single ordinary punk/rock move. The guitars move in obtuse patterns, chord progressions don’t make sense, musical phrases seem to last as long as they feel like lasting, without being constrained by meter. Song structure does not exist. Luempert’s approch to drumming doesn’t once really involve a “beat,” per se, he more just makes sure to be hitting something on each eighth note, and every once in a while, somewhere in between. This means most every note involves all three members attacking their instruments at once, in a way that actually sort of physically assaults you. Coster’s approach to singing is mostly intensely a-melodic, so that when he actually does something pretty and tuneful you really feel it.

The melodies are worked by the guitars, where certain motifs seem to pop up across the songs—lines are drawn easily from “Firehose Face” to “Linoleum Tryst #19” to “Television Man.” The same three-note ascending riff, the same rhythmic pattern floats up frequently, as if these are just elements of music Coster’s mind never stops circling.

Because Naomi Punk is from the Northwest, critics clamoring for some comparison to make immediately land on grunge. As far as I can tell, the only real through-line is that these guys tend to favor the low end of their guitar necks, and that the music is pretty heavy as a result. (I suppose they do thank “Kurdt” in their liner notes, but come on, this is not grunge music.) Honestly, the only influence I can point to directly is their use of looped noise tracks during tuning sessions, a hallmark of early Sonic Youth shows, before they could afford multiple guitars. If there’s any regional connection, it’s to Tumwater/Olympia band Unwound, who took a rather different approach to a similarly jaundiced, sour tone.

Naomi Punk are intensely DIY—they have pretty much zero online presence, their records are distributed by Captured Tracks, but as far as I can tell they pretty much do everything else themselves. As a result, listening to this stuff on record, as I’ve now been doing pretty much since I got home, is a slightly less intense affair. The weight of their live sound doesn’t come across to quite the same extent on this year’s Television Man or 2012’s The Feeling, due simply to production value. So please, for the love of god, go see them live. This band’s highest-profile champions are Parquet Courts, with whom they played the Vera Project a couple weeks ago (I went to Diarrhea Planet instead). I find it interesting that Parquet Courts, the band currently riding the “Guitar-Rock Saviors” wave of hype harder than anyone else by virtue of doing pretty much nothing original (though, yes, they are a lot of fun), are promoting Naomi Punk, who are nothing if not original, and who, in my personal opinion, are vastly more deserving of this praise. If anyone is making guitar music relevant today, it’s these guys. Just listen to “Rodeo Trash Pit” for proof.

After the show, Coster let me short-change him by a buck for a copy of Television Man, because that was all the cash I had. The back of the sleeve bears two directives: “RECLAIM YOUR LIFE” and “PLEASE BLAST THE RECORD.” After last night, I am fully inspired to do both.

Okay. There. I think that’s everything I wanted to say about Naomi Punk. So, The Blood Brothers.

A bit of history: The Blood Brothers formed in high school, and put out their first record, 2000’s This Adultery Is Ripe when they were 19. By 2006, they had released four more willfully erratic, difficult, theatrical post-hardcore full-lengths and a couple EPs, and they broke up in 2007, at the age of 26. Co-frontman Jordan Blilie, bassist Morgan Henderson and drummer Mark Gajadhar formed the alright Past Lives with founding Blood Bro Devin Welch, while other frontman Johnny Whitney and guitarist Cody Votolato teamed up with Jay Clark (ex-Pretty Girls Make Graves) for the pretty bad Jaguar Love. Blilie and Welch also started an apparently pretty good Rolling Stones cover band called, of course, The Rolling Stones, Henderson worked with Fleet Foxes and Hamilton Leithauser, Gajadhar became a beatmaker for hip-hop act Champagne Champagne, Whitney and his wife formed a clothing line, and Votolato played with Telekinesis and Cold Cave. Somewhere in there, Epitaph decided to do vinyl reissues of the band’s four main records. Then, seven years post-breakup, somewhere around age 33, they decided to reunite. (No one really looks like they’ve aged much, either, except maybe Votolato, whose hair was intricately styled to mask his growing forehead.)

I say all this just to emphasize their youth—how many people “get the band back together” at 33? How many have built up a legacy like the Blood Brothers by 26? Almost as many records bear the stamps of these five men as there are records by the actual Rolling Stones. They are important.

As a massive banner bearing the cover of their assumed swan song, 2006’s Young Machetes, went up, the crowd went apeshit. The moshing started before the band even took the stage, and it didn’t ever let up. These fans are devoted: I’m rarely able to decipher Blood Brothers lyrics, but everyone here seemed to know every single one.

I have to confess that I’m only super familiar with their 2004 record Crimes, and having now heard the other three (no one counts Adultery), I feel justified in considering it their best. 2002’s March On Electric Children and 2003’s breakout Burn, Piano Island, Burn are so incredibly dense, winding, and intricately composed that it’s hard to find a place to sink one’s teeth into—the songs blur together into one maelstrom that’s obstinately hard to listen to. Young Machetes’ returns to this pattern, with the focus on start-stop tempos, endlessly morphing song structure, and overzealous production from Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. Crimes, however, is where Votolato learned to play one string at a time, Blilie was given the opportunity to actually sing for the first time, and the band as a whole figured out how to write songs with hooks. The album had them realizing that their rhythm section could really swing when given the chance to slow down, and that they could do some interesting stuff at lower tempos and lower volumes. It’s also where they let their taste for the theatrical run wild—the whole thing should probably be named after a different one of its songs, “Live At The Apocalypse Cabaret.”

So, point being, I was a little disappointed by how little they played off of Crimes. The title track sounded great, “Trash Flavored Trash” was an excellent opener, “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers” was a blast, and naturally, they killed it on their biggest hit “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck,” which found Whitney shrieking “LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE” into one of the overhead drum mics as his mic cut out. But where was “Apocalypse Cabaret?” “Rats And Rats And Rats For Candy?” And “Devastator?” Come on, guys, everybody needs a little devastation… (That said, of all the records I saw people clutching, Crimes seemed to be most popular, especially amongst the female contingent, of whom there were shockingly many for a show like this.)

The other surprise in the setlist was how heavy it was on Young Machetes, a record I foolishly assumed people didn’t really like. But songs like “Set Fire To The Face On Fire,” “Camouflage, Camouflage” and “Vital Beach” got at least as many cheers as every other song, if not more.

The sound was so blown out, and Votolato’s guitar so deliberately tinny, that there was a general piercing hiss over everything, making many songs hard to distinguish (then again, I have the same problem with Piano Island and Electric Children material on record). But I can testify to this band’s showmanship. Where pretty much any other band of their ilk would have doubled down on guitars, The Blood Brothers go for two vocalists, a technique which serves them very well. The dialogue between Blilie’s sultry baritone and Whitney’s androgynous shriek makes tracks like “Peacock Skeleton” really stand out, and when they scream in unison on pretty much every other song, it’s really that much more powerful. Blilie tended to stalk the stage predatorily, while Whitney, always the showboat, gesticulated and writhed. Votolato did his part, too, screaming along, jumping into the crowd, a giant medallion hanging from his neck.

After an impassioned speech from Blilie about how much he loves these other guys, during which Whitney placed his hand on his heart and looked like he would cry, and an announcement that it was Henderson’s birthday, the band launched into the organ-driven main-set closer, “Cecilia And The Silhouette Saloon,” which I’d never really noticed on Piano Island, but which killed live. They returned for an encore of “Set Fire,” a few songs from Adultery for the die-hards, and the only song they could conceivably close with, Piano Island closer “The Shame.” While I was hoping they’d imitate the recorded version’s cold ending, it was good enough chanting along with “Everything is going to be just awful when we’re around” until the final chord struck. It’s nice and awful to have you back, Bros.

PS: To the guy in the fairy unitard and tutu, wandering around waving a paper fan: Thank you. That was an amazing act of charity.

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LIVE: Diarrhea Planet, Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Dear Lisa Prank

No, this is not cute. No, Frankie Cosmos’ recent success does not mean it is time for a “naive music” revival. No, your cover of “Dammit” did not make up for it. No, the charm of early Best Coast did not lie in the poorly played guitar. No.


Dear Those Darlins,

I’d never listened to you guys before this show, but I’d always assumed you were not for me, as people describe you as basically “X with jokes.” I have to give you credit for simultaneously living up to this reputation and being quite good, because who woulda thunk X with jokes would be any good? I’m sorry the mix was kind of off and that your second singer was pretty much inaudible, because I felt like the interplay between the two vocalists would have been cooler with better sound. In any case, your frontwoman has serious swag, and I was consistently amused. So, thanks.


Dear Diarrhea Planet,

Pretty much all I knew about you guys going in was that you have like eight guitarists and that Titus Andronicus namedrop you on “In A Small Body.” Sorta sad to see that it was only four guitarists, come on guys. But honestly, I had a blast watching y’all play. Here’s a list of my favorite moments from your set:
-When guitarist 1 swung his instrument around his neck and nearly brained the bassist. Risky!
-When guitarist 3 told us that a song was “about reality.”
-Pretty much every other explanation of what songs were about.
-Every single drum hit. Please tell your drummer he is a monster.
-When guitarist 3 and the bassist had a coordinated high-five.
-Mid-song guitar swap toss.
-The constant calling out of the dude in the yellow, demanding that he crowd surf.
-The reveal that dude in yellow was guitarist 2’s dad.
-The plea by guitarist 2 to be careful with said dad, “Careful with the back, careful with the knees! I still need him afterwards!”
-Calling said dad and possibly others, “Diarrhea Parents.”
-The moment when dad finally did successfully crowd surf for a whole five seconds.
-The look of relief on guitarist 2’s face when dad was placed safely on the ground.
-The riffs.
-The riffs.
-The riffs!

Point being, you guys were pretty great. Kinda like six Andrew W.K.’s all at once. Keep up the good work.


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LIVE: Operators, Barboza, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Barboza, the newish downstairs room at the Neumos complex, was air-conditioned to hell when I arrived for one of the first few shows ever by Dan Boeckner’s new band Operators.

The chill didn’t seem to have much of an effect on openers Noddy, whose name I misheard as “Frottage.” Frottage would have actually been a better name for these guys, whose dirty dance beats fit very well, for better or for worse, with their degenerate lyrics. Every single song, as far as I could tell, was about meaningless sex and seduction, like a disturbingly less funny Lovage. The one thing that struck me as moderately innovative here was the inclusion of a trumpeter, but she certainly didn’t redeem the rest of Noddy’s set.

Thank god, then, for Operators. Dan Boeckner has been putting out fantastic music for fifteen-ish years now, and between his bands Atlas Strategic, Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, and now Operators, probably has a larger percentage of “Best Records of the New Millennium” under his belt than just about anyone else. As a high-schooler, I initially found Wolf Parade co-leader Spencer Krug’s songs on their debut Apologies To The Queen Mary (which was most people’s introduction to both Boeckner and Krug) to be more interesting, with their twisting melodies and weird keyboard skronk. But as Wolf Parade’s output over their next two records got increasingly marred by Krug’s overelaborate composition and jammy tendencies, Boeckner continued churning out priceless, hooky rock songs about alienation and the dangers of modern love.

Handsome Furs, his band with his now ex-wife Alexei Perry was significantly more consistent, and arguably better, than Wolf Parade, putting out three albums of politically charged, electric, sinewy rock ’n roll that evolved from the dank lethargy of Plague Park through the Soviet-styled riffage of Face Control and on to the triumphantly synth-laden Sound Kapital before their divorce and dissolution.

Boeckner then went on to co-helm Divine Fits with Spoon’s Britt Daniel to excellent effect. Where Daniel’s contributions to the project were pretty great, they mostly felt like Spoon cast-offs. Boeckner’s songs, on the other hand, retained the urgency he’s put into everything he’s ever done, and bolstered Daniel’s lighter material.

Point being, this man is a fucking wizard, and my expectations for Operators, who have been shrouded in secrecy since Boeckner announced their existence in May, were very high. And they were 110% met.

Rounded out by Divine Fits/New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown and the enigmatic keyboardist who goes simply by Devojka, Operators sound a lot like Boeckner’s work on Sound Kapital, but with a real live drummer this time around. This is crucial not because it adds an extra oomph and blood-filled component to their largely electronic sound, but because Sam Brown is a fucking god. Divine Fits doesn’t generally let him go nuts, but the builds and drops of Operators’ music, which often rivaled both LCD Soundsystem and the likes of Skrillex, allowed him to show how seriously he combines both muscle and precision into an athletic drumming style that elevates this band beyond most other electronic acts around.

The emacieted Boeckner was in fine form, gesticulating, spazzing out, and singing at the top of his lungs in his nasally rasp. His performance felt distinctly heartfelt and passionate, demonstrating the degree to which he cares about this project. Between Brown’s locomotive skill, Boeckner’s thrashing, and Devojka’s intense stomp as she manipulated a table of electronics, my eyes couldn’t decide where to look. This is a band of three incredibly magnetic performers.

Ultimately, of course, it’s Boeckner’s show, and part of what made this set such a great experience was how sincerely grateful and straight up stoked he was to have drawn such a crowd. The first words out of his mouth after opener “Ancient” were “Holy shit!” and his expression of disbelief at his fans’ adulation continued throughout the set. “Frankly, I didn’t expect nearly this many people show up,” he confessed. At one point he said, “This is like when you’re a teenager, and you’ve been writing songs in your rooms and you invite your friends in, like, hey guys, I wrote some songs. It’s very intimate for me. And I feel good about it.” He seemed consistently thrilled to have such an enthused audience for these songs, which he’s clearly poured his heart into.

And we were enthused for a reason. While only one Operators song (the excellent “True”) has been released thus far, not knowing the songs wasn’t a problem simply because they were so damn good. Each one had its own distinctive feel, and everything felt more organic than one might expect from a synth-based act. I kept wondering if they were going to pad out their set with older songs from the Boeckner songbook, but Operators have a significant body of excellent work all their own, and I can’t wait to hear these tracks on record, when EP1 is released this fall.

For the encore, Devojka informed us that at their previous show, which was at Pickathon, the crowd had gotten on stage, Brown had been tickled and “someone even grabbed Dan’s wang.” She encouraged us to try to top that, and I felt compelled for the first time ever to actually get on stage and dance. Bravo, Operators.

Dan Boeckner, you are a North American treasure. Keep it up.

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LIVE: Wye Oak, Neumos, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

In the smallish, dimly lit Neumos, even bigger bands can feel intimate, low key. I say this having never seen a “big band” here, this being my first time ever at Neumos. But compared to the last time I saw Wye Oak, opening for Dirty Projectors at LA’s Wiltern, this was the definition of an intimate gig. Especially if intimacy is directly correlated to sweat: Seattle’s been experiencing a heat wave that will apparently go down in history, and Neumos was a boilerroom.

Pattern Is Movement were certainly covered in sweat. The hirsute Philadelphia duo, comprised of Andrew Thiboldeaux on vocals and keys and Chris Ward on drums, defied everything I’d expected of them and then some. All I’ve ever read about Pattern Is Movement, which is admittedly not much, has described them as an elaborate, polyrhythmic math rock act, equally influenced by Don Caballero and Stereolab. While they definitely retain the Stereolab thing, the music these guys made at Neumos couldn’t really be called “math rock” by any rubric. Rather, they offered their own weird take on neo-soul, with vocal modulation sometimes reminiscent of James Blake, weird twisting string loops, and powerful drumming. As if to cement their new aspirations as baby-making music-makers, their set climaxed (no pun intended) with a cover of D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel?” These guys are doing interesting things, it’s worth checking out. Plus, they sell pillow cases with their faces stitched into them.

After the minor tragedy that was the Sharon Van Etten show I saw last week, I was a little worried that Wye Oak would also suffer from SVE effect (i.e. an extreme bias towards lesser new material over back catalogue material). This would actually have been much worse for me as Wye Oak’s Civilian was my favorite album of 2011 and one of my favorites ever, and this year’s hard-left-turn Shriek just really doesn’t hold a candle to it in my book. Frontwoman Jenn Wasner is an amazing vocalist, but an even better guitarist. On Shriek, she plays not a lick of guitar, finding it no longer inspired her as an instrument. Instead, she went for the bass, and Wye Oak’s music went from incredible, melancholy guitar rock to woozy, groovin’ dream pop more suited to Wasner’s side project with producer John Ehrens, Dungeonesse. I’m all for artistic exploration, and I fully appreciate Wasner’s need to get out of her comfort zone, but the entire musical tone of this band shifted with Shriek, and I felt I’d lost a dear friend.

Thank god, then, that the heavily sweating Wasner (“This is the farthest north we’ve been on this tour, and also the hottest I’ve ever been in my life.”) and her partner-in-crime Andy Stack did an excellent job of not only balancing new and old material, but of making the new material rock significantly harder than it does on record. It was not until this show that I’d even really registered the magnificence of the towering (pun intended) bass riff that dominates Shriek highlight “The Tower,” and the synthy bridges of “Glory,” “Schools Of Eyes,” and “I Know The Law” got cranked so hard volume-wise that these poppy little tracks actually began to feel like rock songs. Additionally, it should not go unmentioned that Wasner’s voice is still unparalleled, perhaps even better on the newer material, where she reaches into the high end of her gorgeous alto more frequently than before, and with even better results.

But it was, of course, the older tracks that thrilled me the most. After a string of Shriek songs, Wasner picked up her guitar, and the excitement was palpable. When they busted into “Holy Holy,” off of Civilian, the crowd lost it. The squalls of noise that rule over this song even got carried over into the somber “Plains”. Later in the set, we got the perfect trifecta of “For Prayer,” “Dog Eyes,” and “That I Do,” all of which rocked unbelievably hard. Stack’s skills need mentioning, too—he famously plays the kit with only his right hand most of the time, while the left hand plays keys and samples to fill out this duo’s sound. It’s truly impressive to watch from up close. (Stack and Wasner were an item for most of the band’s tenure, but his recent move to Portland from their hometown of Baltimore suggests that this is no longer the case. Let’s just be glad they managed to keep working together as a band in spite of this, unlike, say, Handsome Furs.)

After closing their set with Shriek’s one perfect pop gem, “The Logic Of Color,” the band left the stage for a comically short pre-encore break (“I don’t know why we engage in this silly ritual,” said Wasner. “But we do, so, thanks for indulging us.”) Then they did their recent A.V. Undercover version of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” followed by the absolutely necessary night ender “Civilian,” which nearly brought me to tears.

One final note about Shriek: This is the first album on which Wasner sounds genuinely happy. And that’s great. But sometimes, and this is also true of Van Etten, I’m sort of disappointed when artists who do sad so well (Civilian and The Knot being masterpieces of depression and loneliness) get happy. I realize this is selfish, but I’m still glad Wasner had it in her to pull out the old melancholia for an altogether excellent set.

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