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Live Review and Photos: Deap Vally, Arctic Monkeys, October 7, 2013, Track 29 – Chattanooga, TN

By Joshua Pickard; October 21, 2013 at 9:00 AM 
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All photos by Amy Fletcher

There were far more people than I expected pressed up against the stage when I walked into Track 29 in Chattanooga, TN two Monday’s past.  I checked my watch to make sure that I wasn’t late, but it was still about an hour before opener Deap Vally was set to take the stage.  Arctic Monkeys after all, right?  I shimmied my way as close to the stage as possible and tried to drown out the steady roar of crowd noise by talking with my brother.  Apart from a few furtive glances at my watch, we spent most of our time watching the people around us shifting in their ever-narrowing personal space and listening to discussions of Humbug vs. Favourite Worst Nightmare. (note: nobody made a really great argument – but everyone knows that FWN is the better record).

But eventually the lights dimmed and a roar of applause and screams were hurled at the stage.  Now I wasn’t that familiar with Deap Vally beyond a few cursory mentions that I had seen in various music publications, but I don’t think I was expecting what happened over the next 30 (or so) minutes.  The stage was set very simply – a mic and guitar set at the front of the stage and a drum kit to the right of it.  Singer/guitarist Lindsay Troy and drummer Julie Edwards strolled out on stage and took their places – and probably a dozen or more guys in the audience hit puberty simultaneously.  Both women were rather provocatively dressed (i.e. neither wore much clothing) and exuded a feral sexuality that seems to crawl off the stage into the audience.  And without much introduction, the duo leapt into their set.

Troy’s blistering guitar solos and Edwards’ pummeling, breakneck drumming meshed perfectly together, and the audience did their best to press closer to the stage.  With a voice that shook the roof of the venue, Troy belted out songs of love, loss, and the dreaded “walk of shame” – all against thudding bass drums, hammering toms, and searing guitar riffs.  But this kind of stripped down rock can all too easily come across as affected or reek of creative artifice but nothing about their set felt false.  Tapping into some wellspring of raw, inclusive emotion (not the least of which was more than forthcoming from the audience), the duo showed exactly what a guitar, a set of drums, and a howling voice could do.  It was loud, sweaty, sexy, and soaked in hot southern nights – I’d like to see The Black Keys pull that off.

But for many in attendance, Deep Vally’s raucous and lively set was just an unexpected bonus to what they had really come out for, that being The Arctic Monkeys – which is a shame really, given how remarkable their brief set turned out to be. I would imagine more than one person was inspired to head by the merch table after their performance to pick up a copy of their debut record, Sistrionix; I should know because I had the same thought. But after a sometimes sludgy, sometimes vicious, collection of songs and some banter about hairstyles, the band bowed out and left an excited crowd even more amped for the main act. There was a palpable current of energy running through the crowd at this point, thanks is no small part to Deep Vally.

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When The Arctic Moneys did finally take the stage, it was to a deafening roar of applause and soon-to-be-hoarse voices shrieking in unison. Strobe lights were flashing behind them, smoke was being pumped onto the stage, and the band was silhouetted in a hazy blue light. And if you had any doubts about singer Alex Turner being a certified rock star, then over the course of the next 100 minutes (or so) you had those doubts completely dispelled. He preened and posed and made you believe that the days of singers like Jagger and Bowie never really ended.

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The band opened with AM-cut “Do You Wanna?,” and its churning guitars, thudding percussion, and howled lyrics poured out from the stage to the audience and back again, leaving echoes of ringing melodies circling the ears of every person there.  And while a good chunk of the evening was spent covering the territory from their latest record, they didn’t forget to revisit everyone of their older releases.  “Dancing Shoes” and “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” — pulled from their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not — were immediately recognized and sent the crowd into a frenzy of howls and clapping.  The songs sounded even better here than on the record, and you really could feel the bass and percussion driven backbone rattling your rib cage.

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They chose to play five tracks from Favorite Worst Nightmare: “Brainstorm,” “Teddy Picker,” “Flourescent Adolescent,” “Old Yellow Bricks,” and “Do Me A Favour.”  And for a record that’s now over 6 years old, they sounded just as vibrant, frenetic, and throbbing as the day that album was released.  The stage setup itself was fairly simple, with Turner out front and the band slightly back and to the side — but this wasn’t a case of the frontman setting himself apart from the band.  He ran back and forth across the stage and played side-by-side with the other Monkeys, and everything just seemed to work perfectly.  They drew a tracks from Humbug, with Crying Lightning” and “Cornerstone” being particular highlights.  And while Suck It And See wasn’t represented to any large degree, “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” was still a roaring mix of pounding drums, elastic bass, and Turner’s fierce vocals.

AM was definitely the bulk of the night though, with the band playing 8 of the album’s 12 tracks.  They slashed through the guitar squall of tracks like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “R U Mine?,” with the audience singing along to every word.  And even though they’ve been playing far larger venues and arenas on their current tour, it was refreshing to see them give it their all in a smaller setting.  They didn’t hold anything back, and everyone in attendance knew that the building was barely able to contain the music being thrown off the stage.  Turner was far more personable with the audience than I had expected — though that expectation was based on practically nothing but conjecture on my part — and of course, he didn’t forget to work in Chattanooga’s name in a song, which obviously threw fans into an even wildly frenzy.

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This was arena rock squeezed into an 1800 capacity room.  Walls reverberated with thick basslines and hammering percussion.  Voices were exhausted and muscles were tired.  But the music never stopped, and as we all walked out of Track 29, the last lingering notes of “R U Mine?” kept us company on the leisurely stroll back to our cars and on the ride home.  My ears were ringing and continued to be so for quite some time, but it was worth it.  Arctic Monkeys had played for each of us, and nothing would change that.

Festival Review: Hopscotch Festival 2013, Day 2 – Raleigh, NC

By Staff; September 16, 2013 at 7:42 PM 

Hopscotch 2013

Read our Day 1 coverage here.


Gross Ghost


All photos by Evan Kaloudis unless otherwise stated

The City Plaza stage on Friday began with a double dash of local artists, both of whom are slowly on the rise. Carrboro’s Gross Ghost took the main stage, probably their largest gig yet, with extreme confidence. The band is set to release their second album to follow up last year’s Brer Rabbit, and many of the newer songs made their way to the downtown stage. They blended seamlessly with the band’s older material, and singer Mike Dillon’s voice sounded better than ever. I’m more than sure they won over a few fans that day. Next up was Future Islands, a band originally from North Carolina, but now finding themselves living in Baltimore. Regardless, the Triangle continues to call them one of our own, and their triumphant set on the main stage proved this. The crowd ate up singer Sam Herring’s every movement, as he proved himself to be one of the more underrated frontmen in the game. The band has garnered a widespread praise for their live show, which they themselves claim is their strong suit. But if their new songs were any indication, we may be in for a treat. –Ryan Nichols


Future Islands


Future Islands photos by Ryan Nichols


Thurston Moore x Merzbow: THURZBOW

Leaving the big theatrics of the City Plaza stage, we made our way to the close confines of Kings’ Barcade, where we were aware a very, very special set was about to happen. Announced softly by the festival as “Merzbow with Super Secret Special Friends,” many people made their way to Kings right around 7:30. The secret was out the minute that Thurston Moore walked up the main stairway at Kings, rather than the side employee one (he had to know what he was doing), immediately silencing everyone waiting for the doors to open at 8. At approximately 7:58, crashing drums and extremely loud washes of guitar began to flood from behind the door at the top of the stairs. Within moments, the doors opened and extreme noise burst out, and as we were let in, we were able to see Merzbow, Thurston Moore, and John Moloney freely jamming cohesively as a three piece. Despite any expectations, the piece was much different than we expected (lots of drone), instead, the three created a driving, rocking piece of music that likely shattered any eardrums not protected. Moore flailed across the stage in his trademark style, busting out his old feedback and file-on-guitar tricks, and Merzbow somehow just created noise with his table of instruments. Moloney held it down, throwing in fills and beats that fit no matter what the other two were playing. A really special, and solid piece of Hopscotch magic. –Nichols

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Festival Review: Hopscotch Festival 2013, Day 1 – Raleigh, NC

By Staff; September 9, 2013 at 6:44 PM 

Hopscotch 2013


Nathan Bowles


All photos by Evan Kaloudis

As the crowds streamed into the wonderfully intimate Fletcher Opera Theatre, the seats quickly began to fill up and many were left standing. The wonder of Hopscotch was welcomed early, as Blacksburg, VA’s Nathan Bowles took the theatre and turned it into his living room, keeping us on our toes during his beautiful set, showcasing his absolute prowess of the banjo. He told jokes, commented on his prominent spot kicking off the festival, and in all, just made all of us feel welcome in town, Raleigh locals or those who came from afar. –Ryan Nichols


The Kingsbury Manx

We briefly broke in for Kingsbury Manx’s set in Hopscotch’s biggest room, the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, just to poke around and feel out the band’s sound on the big stage. They took full advantage, bringing their elegant songs to the heights of the chandeliers in the room. When people ask me what “North Carolina music” sounds like, I’ll typically point them in the direction of the Manx or the Rosebuds (who played the same stage later that evening, but we unfortunately missed). The group’s sounds fit the rolling hills of the Piedmont more than they do the coast or the mountains, but were a wonderful fit right in between the mountains (Nathan Bowles) and the (admittedly dark) coast of Grouper. –Nichols


Angel Olsen

We returned back to the more relaxed atmosphere of the Fletcher Opera Theatre for the elegant folk styling of singer-songwriter Angel Olsen. The St. Louis raised, Chicago-based guitarist has quite a unique voice that can be quite ghostly at times but is simultaneously warm and inviting — resonating from her throat and accentuating the emotional content of her songs. Despite the deep content of her songs she broke the tension with the audience to ask where she should eat while she was in the south and eventually had us laughing at the notion of finding a good burrito. Later in the set after a song about a failed relationship Olsen stopped to try and reassure us of her emotion state stating that the last tune was “just a song” but after a little hesitation she diffidently stated, “It didn’t use to be just a song.” For Olsen, the knife may be out of her back but the scars remain. –Evan Kaloudis


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Live Review: Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra, July 17th 2013, HMV Picture House, Edinburgh

By Ray Finlayson; August 4, 2013 at 12:00 PM 

Palmer
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Festival Review: Discorporate 2013 – Starworld

By Stephen Henderson; July 8, 2013 at 11:22 PM 

Discorporate Festival, June 7&8 2013

Being at Discorporate

The word discoporate literally means, as those familiar with Zappa’s We’re Only in it for the Money will know, ‘to leave one’s body’. However, to the unfamiliar audience, the word, the base of which is ‘corporate’, has a totally different meaning. The ‘dis-‘ acts as a negation à la ‘disinterested’ or ‘disemboweled’, and thus one associates the word with the antithesis of the almost mechanistic music world. With great pleasure I can say that the wonderful pun pans out in the world of which language is merely an approximation. The Discorporate Festival was a fully sublimative experience, probably somewhat akin to being a Buddha protesting on Wall Street while on copious amounts of drugs. My goal with this review is not to make any true attempts at describing the sounds, but only to hopefully pique some interest. More so than almost anything I have ever encountered, Discorporate Festival was not something worth an attempt at description. It was far beyond the sum of its parts, and oozed a warmth of static embracing energy.

The totality of Discorporate Fest was mind warping. The entire building had been given the perfect DIY makeover, with grass roots art coating the walls, the perfect lighting, and a general ambience that one has given up expecting from venues. There was not an inch of space that was not in one way or another entertaining. The lawn in front had a free-for-all picnic atmosphere, and one entered the actual playing space (which was fitted with various papier-mâché deep sea animals) to what is close to the perfect crowd atmosphere: ready to dance, ready to talk, ready to enjoy in any way possible. Everyone there was ready for a huge spectrum of music, which the festival delivered all on one stage. Everything from comedy-pop of Freeze Puppy, the disco of Ptterns, the brutal tech-noise of Staer, to the indescribable sounds of ZA! SchnAAk and Guardian Alien. Each band had a distinctive set up, which the crew was able to get functional well before one would expect, which was almost downright astonishing.

I would be completely satisfied saying that every band kicked ass in their own right, and that the environment was more than one would have expected, even given the incredible combination. The three bands of whom I have interviews were, biased or not, my favorites, and I will give a quick synopsis of what it was like to see them. I find the interviews themselves more interesting than anything I could say about the experience, which simply must be experienced.

Stage and decoration

The first of the three to play was Guardian Alien, who dredged forth from the pits of technicolor chaos the usual unreproducible bath of sound. The recent loss of one of their musicians had changed their sound, but definitely not for the worse. The new texture relied more on the thick web of loops coming out of the pedal board, which immersed the listener in a high-octane audible soup. Greg, as usual, played out of his skin, with his usual look of meditative concentration. Alex’s vocals cut through the Technicolor din with shimmering clarity of thought and sound. The chaos was perfectly balanced, overwhelming, and beautiful. In fact, it would seem that the recent loss drove the band to summon forth a greater degree of intensity.

Previously when I have seen Guardian Alien, there is almost a sense of a Zen, as the river of sound contracts and expands in on itself, weaving unidentifiable layers over itself, a chord of ether in constant flux held together loosely, more than by anything else ,by the sheer conception of a band. Here, there was more of aggression in their attack on the instruments, a clear and deliberate compensation for new space, and I believe the pressure to fill the space brought forth a carnal sense (simply take a look at those faces). For a crowd that was looking to dance, they were not so well received as more approachable acts, but definitively found their home amongst other acts, and naturally as a unfathomably individual act, intended for the headier appreciation. That is not to say there wasn’t the same energy in the crowd that thundered from the stage (the law of diffusion, thankfully, held true), but simply that the various Euro-style club meisters (yes, there were a couple present) were not quite sure what to do with themselves. We of the enlightened convulsed with the torrent and were so freed.

SchnAAk is almost untouchable in terms of showmanship. Between the perfect execution of their material, which is in itself beyond commendable (just listen to it), they have established the perfect balance between nonchalance, humour, and self-laudation. High energy ferocity characterized everything they played, and the interpretive dance that interposed a couple of the songs (which was not so animalistic as elegant, but in a Groucho Marx style). Mathias’ guitar tone gut pummeled right into my gut, and I would speak about the awe of watching Josen play the drums, but I don’t think I was ever able to focus for a long enough time to digest it (not that anyone could). SchnAAk has recently incorporated the perfect arsenal of tone color and texture, and these sounds become both rawer and more refined when heard live. They are bouquet of living breathing mechanical cosmic god flowers, glowing hot aurora borealis in perfectly orchestrated insanity. My only complaint about SchnAAk was volume. I wished to exist as nothing other than a being engulfed in SchnAAk, which would have required some sort of mystical crossing brought on by split ear drums and a distended bowels (yes, I have heard sound vibrations can achieve this result), but I suppose it is good I continued on in existence to hear them again.

SchnAAk

What is key to SchnAAk, particularly live, is an understanding of the masterpiece of pure artistry combined with a distinct sense of accessibility. Where Guardian Alien did not cater to the understanding of dance that the crowd came with, SchnAAk may as well have bestowed it upon them. However, the music is, self evidently, highly technical, ripe with fruits for the most devoted music geek. However, taking I believe a leaf from the mainstream metal acts following in the wake of Meshuggah, the underlying groove never is completely lost. To a listener with some familiarity, seeing SchnAAk, hearing them perfectly execute the sounds you had assumed to be the work of a production wizard, is nothing short of Sublimation. For new listeners (an opinion I had to get by talking to others), SchnAAk quickly asserted itself as a monster, the aural grip of which is inescapable.

It is possible that ZA! Has more fun on stage than any group I, at least, have encountered. The best analogy for understanding ZA! is in physics. When particles are bonded, they are at their lowest energy state. When they are separated, their kinetic energy sky rockets. So, there are many points in ZA!’s music when there is space between sound (they are only two people and there is only so much tasteful looping can do) but these seems to make them more intense, and more interesting. Everything from ZA! was lighthearted and engrossing, incredible danceable despite its unpredictable changes, and with more fire at its ass than any band I’ve seen.

Pau and Edu lose, from what I could tell, a sense of ego upon entering the stage. They become conductors of circuit, a circuit that is not fully connected. That is to say, perhaps 1000 volts are moving through a wire, but one part of the wire is broken, yet the electrons simply jump over the gap to reach back into themselves. ZA! has a sense of spontaneity, a sense of the impossible. The music should really not being able to come forth, it feels like they are so unaware of themselves they would be no way for them to connect. Yet they do, and it sparks. They ooze machismo, but in almost a self mocking way. They are playing music to have fun, to try new things for themselves and for others. They are the ultimate party in and of themselves. Even knowing consciously that the notes I was hearing were correct, there still remained a feeling of seeing something that had not yet occurred on earth, but maybe was cascading through a rip in some plane of existence, from a place where cross faded electrodes of flourescent rainbows collide in ecstacy to the rhythms of mumbo and schizophrenic merengue.

ZA!

There is something particularly futile about trying to talk about this festival. A lot of shows come and go, but very few become something bigger. Discorporate, and the bands that played, created an experience, a community, and interaction, a reality, that just didn’t exist in any quantifiable or describable way. There will be one next year, if there is any sort of order and goodness in the universe. Tickets to Germany aren’t that expensive. Enter the Starworld, where people are still excited to be alive, and unafraid to engage with it. Discoporate is, for me, characterized be the dedication to the music, with intense thought to the experience. The final hours of the festival consisted of a jam session including all the musicians who felt like the should get involved (thus, involving two drumkits). Discorporate Festival takes itself seriously, but as an alternative. This ends up entailing a different idea of what serious is, and I personally comfortable believing that some of the most interesting, progressive, familial music is happening.

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Festival Review and Photos: Sasquatch Music Festival 2013, May 24-27 – George, Washington

By Brendan Frank; June 21, 2013 at 1:14 AM 

Grimes

Photography by Jake MacDonald

Grimes photo (above) by Kara Kostis

Music festivals are heavyweights in the struggle between order and chaos. Being somewhat new to the festival circuit, this slipped my mind as I was packing for a 6-day trip to the Gorge in Washington. A ten percent chance of rain means it will most definitely rain, you will either lose or misplace much of what you brought, your phone will not get service, you will not cook even a fraction of the $200 worth of food you purchased, you will get separated from your friends, and you will miss shows you wanted to see. You will also have an amazing time if you embrace the fact that some things will go wrong.

People come to festivals for different reasons, but the diversity of the crowd means you can probably find what you’re looking for, be it music, a good time with friends, Molly, or just the shock of the new. Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Gorge Amphitheatre near Quincy, Washington, Sasquatch provided a unique and gorgeous setting for a four day marathon. Uncooperative weather was responsible for most of the hiccups, the grounds and campsites were easy to navigate, and there were myriad food options for the provisionally challenged.

As we rolled in late Thursday night to pouring rain, it became painfully obvious to me how inadequately prepared I was for bad weather. The rain refused to let up as we set up our tent and soaked in the collective anticipation with the Gorge’s other 25,000 guests. The rain continued on into Friday morning, the daylight revealing some of the most hilariously poor attempts at pitching a tent that I’ve ever seen. The clouds finally parted around noon to cheers from the slums, and then it was off to the races.

Sea Wolf

Sea Wolf

First up was Sea Wolf who played for forty minutes at the second largest venue in the grounds, Bigfoot Stage. Their songs were nimble but heavy on rhythm, with drummer Joey Ficken and bassist Eliot Lorango often doubling down on percussion duties. The band encountered slight issues with feedback after a few songs, but decided to proceed before the problem had been corrected. After a great start, their set sagged in the middle as they moved into slower, looser and mopier songs. After half an hour of their set we sprinted to the Sasquatch stage to see the tail end of ZZ Ward, who is as polished and soulful live as she is in the studio. She has the personality to match too. We watched her from the concrete terrace as she playfully engaged with the audience, pounding out her final three songs of funk, blues and soul, flanked by a trio of excellent musicians.

ZZ Ward

ZZ Ward

One of the best things about music festivals is that they expose you to music that you wouldn’t be likely to seek out otherwise. Portland metal act Red Fang was one such band for me, playing a late afternoon set to a curiously diverse audience. Soldiering on beneath the intense sun, the quartet freaked out with sludgy riffs, collectively growled choruses and sudden shifts in speed and tempo. Metal isn’t my thing, but you have to respect musicians who’ve clearly mastered their craft. Singer Aaron Beam addressed the audience in a comically polite tone between throat tearing screams.
As things began to cool off and the threat of rain became real yet again, Vancouverite duo Japandroids took a rather unorthodox approach to their set, coming out fifteen minutes early to do a sound check for a keen audience. Singer Brian King darted from the stage right as they were supposed to start, leaving drummer David Prowse stranded on stage, only to come back two minutes later soaking wet. They worked out bugs in their sound as they went, and even started a few over because we “deserved better than that shit.” They switched up the melodies on songs like “Wet Hair” and “The House That Heaven Built,” which was easily the highlight of their set, with the crowd eagerly jumping in to sing along. It was an exhausting 50 minutes.

Japandroids
Japandroids

Red Fang
Red Fang

I sat down with Japandroids during the weekend. We discussed their start in Vancouver, their progression as songwriters, and learning the solo from “Stairway to Heaven.”

The rain made good on its threat as we made our way over a performance by the Boisean Built to Spill, who played an extended set thanks to a no-show by Schoolboy Q. I’m only really familiar with Built to Spill’s first four albums, so thankfully the majority of their set was dedicated to that era. The indie vets burned through classics like “Else” and “Big Dipper” with the proficiency of pros that have been playing together for a very long time. Set against the gorgeous setting of the Gorge with the sunset and rain, there was a strange sense of serenity about the whole thing. The mix was guitar-heavy to the point where Doug Martsch’s lyrics weren’t quite decipherable, but his voice has weathered magnificently. Beneath the band’s thick, winding riffs, it added a whole new dimension to subdued songs like “Carry the Zero.”

Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys

After watching Built to Spill from the comfort of the hill, we headed down to the front of the stage in anticipation of Arctic Monkeys, a personal favourite. Having seen the band before in 2009 and 2011, I had certain expectations for their show. They didn’t fulfill any of them, but instead gave me something I didn’t even realize I wanted. This is the first time I’ve seen Arctic Monkeys look like genuine fucking rock stars. Without saying a word, the band opened with a song I’ve never heard, titled “Do I Wanna Know.” From there, they gave a fair shake to all of their albums, including “Brick by Brick,” a thoroughly underrated cut from Suck It And See that has some real snarl when played live. It seems like they’re splitting the difference between Humbug and “R U Mine?” this time around; pensive and moody, but with deep pop roots.

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend

Right after the Monkeys was the first of multiple sprints from one show to the next. I’d always thought that Vampire Weekend was a band whose success could mostly be chalked up to being in the right place at the right time. Even though they smacked the zeitgeist in the forehead in 2008, their first two albums never really resonated with me. Then I listened to the recently released Modern Vampires and everything suddenly clicked. In a live setting, the details in their music positively bloom. As the delicate, spoke-wheel guitars of “White Sky” rang out from Bigfoot Stage, it became apparent that Ezra Koenig & co. are seriously competent musicians. The nearly perfect string on songs from Modern Vampires, “Unbelievers,” “Step,” and “Diane Young,” were thrilling, while classics like “A-Punk” were practically thrown at the audience. On our way to Macklemore we stopped by El Chupacabra to catch a few of Matthew Dear’s heavy, hypnotic rhythms. I’m not overly familiar with the band’s material, but the visual show was magnificent, and the audience knew almost all of the words. We then made our way over to the main stage for Friday’s grand finale.

Matthew Dear
Matthew Dear

After stepping on 20 minutes late, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis bounded onto the stage, accompanied by horn players, and an army of backup singers and dancers. This was balls-out entertainment, and as much fun as I was expecting it to be. They pulled out every stop imaginable, bringing in numerous guests from his album The Heist, including Wanz and Mary Lambert, and using several of the props from their music videos. As the show progressed, it became obvious that Macklemore’s performance was his gift back to his home state, like a thank you for allowing him to become the success he is: “I have been working my entire life to step on to this stage, and there is no place more beautiful.” Outfitted in a jersey from the defunct Seattle Supersonics, he proceeded to reminisce about growing up in Washington and his own Sasquatch experiences, and spoke candidly about his struggles with addiction. He poured his heart into this show, from opener “Ten Thousand Hours” to mega-hit “Thrift Shop” to politically charged “Same Love,” coming out for several encores and going well beyond his allotted time.

Macklemore
Macklemore

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Live Review: Waxahatchee, Dalston Roof Park, June 14, 2013 – London, UK

By Rob Hakimian; June 18, 2013 at 10:00 AM 

waxa (630x354)

Have a gig in a roof garden; it sounds like a nice idea in theory. That’s exactly where Katy Crutchfield performed on the final night of her first ever UK tour as Waxahatchee. However, to deal with England’s inconsistent climate in this late spring/early summer period, there was a necessity for a large inflatable roof, both to keep rain out and to keep heat in, but in order for it to stay inflated there was a large pump constantly running, whose whirring threatened to drown out the gig for those of us near the rear, especially since Crutchfield was playing a stripped down acoustic performance. Fortunately, credit is due to both audience and performer, as, once I was able to fade the white noise of the pump from my mind, I couldn’t hear a pin drop amidst the crowd, and Crutchfrield’s voice came through clearly.

Despite the greying sky and the approaching darkness, Crutchfield maintained a summery appearance, donning large sunglasses and playing heavily from last year’s American Weekend, which suited the acoustic set up and had the audience hanging on every word. Of the Cerulean Salt tracks aired, the brazen war cry of “Misery Over Dispute” had no trouble cutting across all other noises in the vicinity to strike a chord in the hearts of the onlookers. The closing “Hollow Bedroom” was equally effective, getting the crowd swaying and singing in time.

The set may have been short, but the nice setting and the affable performer made the event a joy. There followed a screening of Badlands on the roof, for which Katy stuck around to watch and spoke to fans, which was another bonus, after all it is for her words that we most admire her.

Festival Review and Photos: Primavera Sound Festival 2013, May 23-25 – Barcelona, Spain

By Gabriel Szatan; June 3, 2013 at 8:19 AM 

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Photos by Dani Canto, Kyu Han, Eric Pamies, Toni Rosado, Xarlene & author’s own

Barcelona has to be the best city in the world, right? And that’s not just during festival season either – it’s just a really lovely place to be in general, full of warm people with warm smiles free to bask in warm weather due to the warm levels of 57% youth unemployment and hey, it’s just great. That tangible sense of geniality found across Barca was of course omnipresent at Primavera Sound, almost to a disarming extent: I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier crowd at any major event, on the continent or otherwise. Although not my first international foray, this did mark my introduction to European festivals, and it really couldn’t have been better. The seafront site was logistically sound, managing to keep volume levels super powerful while minimising inter-bleed to an impressive extent, perhaps excepting no mans land in between the ATP and Heineken stages where there was a fair amount of spill; the punters were convivial and considerate enough without losing an iota of energy or zeal; and augmented by the bolstering of local bookings and extensive records and art fayre by the entrance gates, there was a general sense of camaraderie and community that has all but evaporated from UK events of a relatable scale. In a similar vein to getting stuck in at Worthy Farm, stepping on site at the Parc del Forum is akin to entering a alternat(iv)e universe, however whereas the sheen of Glastonbury’s fabled all-inclusiveness has been dulled somewhat by the influx of Grazia-toting V Festival refugees in cutoff hotpants, Primavera was spot on across the board; “just such a good spirit,” as Ed Droste succinctly put it.

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To avoid turning this into a total Cytherean gush-fest, I should probably talk about the music. My party tried our hand at the Wednesday night John Talabot / Parquet Courts double-header – augmented by a secret Breeders slot – but the queue outside the Sala Apolo was 30000000 deep (approx), so we took the consolation prize of watching a gang of cavalier Gaslight Anthem fans sink bodyshots off one another to Crowded House in a nearby bar, which wasn’t bad. Despite the allure of a special Thursday matinee Animal Collective press conference – “uh, yeah, can you try not to make Centipede Hz again, please?” – the fact that all pre-festival nerves about alleged hailstorms were allayed by blissful conditions meant it seemed only right to kick things off with Wild Nothing. Jack Tatum’s gang played a primarily Nocture-based set, a record I admittedly should have spent a little bit more time with, but their brand of dainty throwbacks was pleasant as ever, although unpowered and a tad unconvincing on such a big stage. The vocals were too high in the mix and the rhythm guitar practically non-existant but the sturdy basswork carried the set, and they served their role as a decent mid-afternoon lead-in capably, improving in confidence as they progressed. While sarcastically referred to as “the hit” by a mate, when “Summer Holiday” was dropped in, it did feel like a true gem of recent years, harking back to the glorious summer of ’10 when this kind of hazy dream pop was a little less passé, and proved the clear standout.

But perhaps I’m being overly harsh on them – after all, next up on my colour-coded Clashfinder (yup) was Savages, a band no stranger to accusations of revivalism. In a marked contrast to Wild Nothing’s languid drift, Jehnny Beth jogged on the spot, hands half-clenched, as the outfit tore into the fierce squall of “Shut Up” to a bristling crowd down at the waterfront Pitchfork Stage. That area maintained arguably the perfect sound throughout the whole weekend, managing to faithfully reproduce whatever was being channelled through its speakers in a way that was neither slightly too loud (ATP / Ray Ban), slightly too quiet (Primavera, on occassion) or subject to slightly muddy mixing (Heineken). This obviously suited Savages, whose white-hot bursts of barbed-wire ferocity translated really well for the first 15 minutes, despite a slot in the still blazing 7pm sunshine not exactly tailored to their tailoring. Annoyingly, major technical woes curtailed the momentum fairly drastically, leaving a prolonged lull that, while filled cleverly by an elongated bass groove and Beth’s intermittent band shout-outs, left the band accidentally having Silenced Themselves (boo, you suck, get off the stage etc).

An inauspicious beginning, then, and for the start of Tame Impala‘s set it seemed as if they might befall a similar fate in front of the 25,000 people that had gathered at the main Heineken stage to witness the coronation proper of one of this decade’s brightest hopes. Having only been in the public domain for about eight months, Lonerism‘s status as an minor classic is already cemented, and while the band seemed imbued with more confidence than when I saw them tepidly try to fill an overly-generous 50m outdoor slot two years back – which is commendable considering this was their first ever performance without former bassist and paradoxical featherweight anchor Nick Allbrook – they weren’t entirely convincing during the opening one-two punch of “Solitude Is Bliss” and “Apocalypse Dreams.” An interesting aspect of Tame Impala’s live performance is that the groundswell of goodwill behind the band creates an atmosphere of expectancy that the group, through no fault of their own, can’t quite match. There’s a constant tingle of anticipation that every killer drum fill will lead to a thrilling moment of acceleration, but the tempo never fully deviates from a steady canter, creating tiny voids where the crowd remains tantalisingly on the cusp of a full breakdown, waiting for an opportunity to expend their energy (case in point: the beginning of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”). But following an impassioned “Keep On Lying” five songs deep the band found their groove – probably spurned on by the “pretty perfect” sight of the full moon emerging as the sun began to dip – and really stepped up a gear to charge through the remaining sophomore material before absolutely knocking “Alter Ego,” “It Is Not Meant To Be,” and “Half Full Glass Of Wine” out the Parc. The sound was rich and robust and Kevin Parker put in a memorable performance, relishing the rockstar roll by shimmying around in front of their surprisingly effective visualiser backdrop, wielding his guitar like a weapon and lapping up the adulation of the assembled throng. I was all set for an evening of \m/ alt.rocking out \m/ with Dinosaur Jr and Deerhunter but being the typically useless British tourist that I am, a surprise visit from the sunstroke fairy put paid to that.

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I restarted on Grizzly Bear, a band I would definitely have traded for the aforementioned pair, and whose grand entrance proved comically anticlimactic thanks to Ed Droste delivering what I’m sure was a very heartfelt little speech about how wonderful it is to be back and how beautiful the crowd looked and whatever into a bust mic. Lined-up in their usual egalitarian fashion, their choice of wearing what looked like silk pyjamas actually suited their enchanting lullabies pretty well. The power in Droste’s voice was magnified in the flesh, and the group’s layered harmonising was captivating to watch in front of the best lamp-based stage show this side of Fever Ray (more on her later). “Cheerleader” was predictably sublime and “Yet Again”‘s big reveal struck me as fairly reminiscent of the manner in which Radiohead’s “There There” crests live. The low-end on the Primavera stage was crushing, adding a potency usually absent on record, and it was a shame to leave what had transpired to be a super enjoyable set. However, the depleted opportunities to see post-fatherhood Fucked Up forced my hand – and sure enough, Damian’s first words as he stepped out on stage were about his two kids. But for a man grappling with the twin responsibilities of leading a punk band and raising a family, he showed no signs of deviating from his usual course of action, snaking a path through the crowd multiple times and seeming at times genuinely overawed at the love shown. Really, what can I say that hasn’t been already? They are a total blast live. If you’ve yet to experience the wonderful spectacle of Pink Eyes wrapping mic cords around his face, pulling his basketball shorts up past his nipples, eulogising Spain’s punk history and calling everyone who hi-fives him “sir”, rough luck. Not to detract from the sextet as a whole, mind – they are almost ridiculously well-oiled, smashing through “Queen of Hearts” clean off the bat and emanating a raw power that was a joy to behold. For the several hundred right in the thick of the action fist-pumping through “The Other Shoe”‘s “dying on the inside” refrain, it felt not too far off a headline set. The new material sounded really great too, a perfect encapsulation of the band firing on all cylinders: intelligently structured jams delivered at blistering speed that leave you with a stupid grin smeared all over your face. Bonza.

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But as great as they were, they came second-best in a battle of the Fucks. With Phoenix yelping through their star-speckled diminishing returns on the adjacent stage, my energy levels were flagging and I needed something hefty to convince me not to sack the night off. Irrespective of how big I wanted it, Fuck Buttons gave me little choice; they were chuffin’ colossal. Kicking off with a new track from imminent third record Soft Focus, their set-up was deceptively stripped-back: two tech nerds huddled over a modest amount of gear on a table with a microphone that Andrew Hung intermittently jammed in his mouth, with a disco ball in the back and a screen hosting body-rendering projections. But Christ were they loud, and Christ were they good. I had to actually move to the back of the sound booth for fear I was going to pass out. “Space Mountain” was absolutely punishing, sounding not too dissimilar to what I imagine two aerodromes scraping against one another in an earthquake might, whereas Benjamin Power’s tom thwacks on “Colours Move” were cavernous and gave the set an industrial feel throughout, something echoed on the new record, of which three or four cuts were debuted. I mean, *cliche alert* but I can’t think of an act that I’ve seen more accurately live up to the overused ‘widescreen’ tag than Fuck Buttons, who managed to somehow wrest euphoria out of the crushing din. The dazzling rainbow lights that accompanied Official British Government Approved London 2012™ anthem “Olympians” had the audience throwing their arms aloft; similarly, when a particularly militant techno reworking of “Surf Solar” dropped in, people began losing their shit, pummelled into a senseless, jelly-legged groove; once that in turn had screechgued into newie “Brainfreeze”, large swaths of the crowds had completely given up any resistance and were flinging themselves around with total abandon. It was a testament to Primavera’s sense of parallel reality that this ATP-signed noise duo pushed themselves into a realm that you imagine only the likes of dyed-in-the-wool big league dance headliners such as the Chemical Brothers and Orbital ever really touch in front of a crowd of thousands at 4am on a Thursday night.

My whole gang revitalised, we scoped out one final act to deliver a slice of valedictory triumph to rubber-stump the day as ‘unfuckwithable’, so it seemed only right to catch Jackmaster in full Tweak-a-Holic mode. I’ve tried my hand before at addressing how best to critically assess a familiar face but really this time round his set posed more questions than it answered:
– Can you hear me calling out your name?
– How will I know if he really loves me?
– Psycho Killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?
– How does it feel to treat me like you do?

…I’m sure you get the gist. He full-on bodied it – even saying as much himself – capping a truly singular day.

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Festival Review: Boston Calling

By Lucien Flores; June 1, 2013 at 10:36 AM 

Boston has an underappreciated music scene. The city might not match the sprawling metropolis of New York City but few places can. Boston is home to my personal favorite venue, the 933-capacity Paradise Rock Club. The more corporate Bank of America Pavilion and House of Blues host larger bands and the smaller Brighton Music Hall, T.T. The Bear’s Place, Middle East, and others host emerging talent. Then there’s the whole hush-hush Allston DIY scene that I can’t even manage.

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Last weekend, Boston finally had a music festival of its own. Boston Calling jumped onto the festival circuit with a formidable line-up that was co-curated by The National’s Aaron Dessner. Despite Saturday’s cold rain and Sunday’s unseasonably cool air, the inaugural festival was a unquestionable hit.

Everything went smoothly as bands traded off sets between the two stages. The organizers did almost everything right: re-entry allowed people to take a much needed break from the elements (I can attest that after hours in the rain, the warmth of a fast-food joint named Cheeseboy trumped seeing Marina & The Diamonds). Furthermore, festival-goers were allowed to bring food into the festival, allowing for prime time snackage when you were too afraid to give up your spot in the crowd.

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The only complaints I had were that it was hard to see the acts on the smaller second stage and that shuffling back and forth between the two stages sometimes seemed impossible. Otherwise, organizers did a great job — some of the nicest staff and security guards I’ve encountered and free rain ponchos all around.

 The Bands:

It’s easy for bands to blend together at a festival when you’re constantly bombarded with music for about eight hours. The review highlights the few bands that really brought it to Boston Calling and the few that were caught on a bad day.

The National – Sunday

The National

It’s ironic: the band known best for their  intricate, reflective, and self-conscious music is actually a kickass live band. Lead singer Matt Berninger was certainly feeling screamy on Sunday, belting lyrics to rockers such as “Squalor Victoria,” “Abel,” and the new show-stopper, “Graceless.”

And for a band known for brooding, end-of-the-night numbers, the set was filled with rockers. Of course, “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Apartment Story,” and “Sea of Love” were loud, but even the tamer “Fake Empire” and “Conversation 16” sounded heavier than normal with all of Boston crooning along.

On “Mr. November,” the liquor fueled Berninger found himself in the crowd, singing along with the masses. At the end of the song, the singer seemed trapped in the crowd before the audience and security teamed up and propelled him back to stage.

While the rockers were the highlight, the band’s many delicate numbers still sounded fantastic: “About Today” rose from haunting to cathartic perfection and the Trouble Will Fine Me opener “I Should Live In Salt” was a brilliant choice to kick off the encore.

One of the more badass moments came during the band’s quietest song of the night, “I Need My Girl.” Bryce Dessner holds a second guitar and bangs it on the ground to create a sense of foreboding that felt so right in the night sky. The Dessner brothers traded guitars and switched off on piano duties—they maintained a captivating stage presence throughout the night.

The National

Portugal. The Man – Saturday

Portugal. The Man

Just last year, I was worried that this band might be on the decline. They had been one of my favorites since the release of their brilliant 2008 album Censored Colors but they changed drummers and keyboardists and their live sets seemed to focus less on the jamming and song combinations that always enthralled me. I was wrong to worry.

After a year with the new line-up, the band sounds as good as they’ve ever been. New keyboardist Kyle O’Quin brings a fresh sound (and a half-dozen impressive keyboards) that adds life to new songs, such as “Modern Jesus” and “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.”

Playing the sprawling “Sleep Forever” into “Hey Jude” is genius. Getting thousands to share in the singing of one of McCartney’s most anthemic songs will certainly make people like you. Definitely one of the festival’s high points.

Despite my fondness for their earlier tracks, Portugal is killing it live these days with a setlist that favorites their new material.  Yes, they’re a veteran act—a month away from their seventh album in eight years—but they’re still bound for a breakthrough. They have Danger Mouse, Atlantic Records, and a killer live set to ensure this.

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fun. – Saturday

Honestly, I’m just not into fun. Sure, I can have a good time but “Some Nights” irks me in unexplainable ways. Seriously though, it’s that nauseating intro.

At Boston Calling, the band seemed genuinely excited and touched to be there. Lead singer Nate Ruess claimed it was their largest show ever and that it was his favorite. He never dreamed of playing such a large crowd and it humbled him.

A seemingly-impromptu cover of “Me and Julio Down by The Schoolyard” was highly entertaining and the crowd ate up the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

More than the music, it was Ruess and the band’s excitement that made it hard to dislike them. Yes, I still can’t stand “Some Nights” and won’t likely reach for any of their LPs but, for a night, I realized just how catchy “We Are Young” is.

fun. was also the only band I saw that made any reference to the Marathon Bombings that devastated the city just over a month ago. Ruess applauded how quickly the hub recovered and could put on a festival as great as this. His support of the city’s recovery efforts obviously produced a loud cheer.

Of Monsters and Men – Sunday

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Of Monsters and Men played an enjoyable and festival friendly set. Their perfectly placed “heys!” got the audience singing along and throwing beach balls around—the biggest of the beach balls made me feel as if I were in danger whenever it landed nearby.

The Icelandic band’s indie-pop drew the youngest audience of the night. Most festival-goers that rushed to the front of the crowd weren’t even in high school yet—and dashed before before The National took to the stage.

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The Shins – Saturday

The Shins had the misfortune of taking the stage around the most miserable time of day: the temperature was dropping, the rain was restarting and fatigue was settling in. Even so, the eerie vibe of “New Slang” was perfect for the cold night. “Simple Song,” and “Caring Is Creepy” were also fantastic, as was the 60-year-old man rocking out for the entire set.

Dirty Projectors – Sunday

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The closer I got to the stage, the more I dug the dissonant, off-kilter, james of this band. It took some time to warm up to but I was grooving to the piercing guitars and strange harmonies. “Gun Has No Trigger” was spooky and fantastic.

Youth Lagoon – Sunday

Youth Lagoon

Trevor Powers’ keyboard and live instrumentation lead the way in this early-afternoon set. The only weak spot was Powers’ voice which sounded more nasal and grating than on the record where he sounds wonderfully nervous and juvenile. There were a few times when his voice became cringe-worthy, however, the other elements saved the set.

Other Acts:

MS MR

St. Lucia and MS MR are quality electronic pop acts. MS MR was the more memorable of the two bands thanks to charismatic lead singer Lizzy Plapinger whose powerful voice reminded me of Florence Welch. They pulled a fantastic move when they covered LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yourself Clean.” It didn’t hit as hard as the original (their version was more subdued) but it was still a quality dance groove that got audience digging their set.

Bad Rabbits and Caspian were the festival’s local openers, playing on Saturday and Sunday respectively. The former are a high-energy funk band while the latter are a quiet, instrumental, and guitar-heavy group. Both were solid but the audience ate up Bad Rabbits and energetic lead singer Fredua Boakye who kept saying how much he loved the city. On the other hand, Caspian might have been better received under the guise night.

Bad Rabbits

Disappointments:

Cults:

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Cults was off their game. I’ve seen them before at the intimate Paradise Rock Club and was pleasantly surprised but they couldn’t pull it off at much larger Boston Calling. Guitarist Brian Oblivion said it was their first show in six months so I’m willing to give them another chance. The band sounded better towards the end of the set and the more they distanced themselves from simply playing the music as it sounds on the LP, the stronger they sounded.

The Walkmen:

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While the indie-rock veterans delivered a solid set, it was mostly unmemorable when compared to the other acts at Boston Calling. Yes, “The Rat” was great but nothing else really stuck with me.

Best Cameo:

Boston’s ailing mayor Thomas Menino took stage before The Shins set to largd cheers. He briefly talked of his initial skepticism about the festival and how pleases he was with how it turned out. The next day, The National’s Aaron Dessner revealed the second Boston Calling festival to raucous applause.

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Boston Calling returns in September with Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, Kendrick Lamar, and Local Natives headlining.

 

Live Review and Photos: Born Ruffians, April 16, 2013, Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

By Nick Milanes; May 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM 

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Born Ruffians celebrated the release of their third LP, Birth Marks, with a lively, sold out show at the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday. Longtime fans made a point of showing up as soon as the doors opened, and I was fortunate enough to snag the last open space up front – right next to a group of especially drunk young women. Their enthusiasm throughout the opening acts, Ski Lodge and Moon King, grated on me at first. But it was early in Born Ruffiansʼ set that I realized that there are too few bands in existence whose fans know every single word to every single song, and will sing along till their throats give out. Born Ruffians are such a band.

“Iʼve been to eight of their shows. Theyʼre such great guys. They deserve it so
much,” a tall fan in a black hoodie said to me before their set–and I couldnʼt be sure, because of the height difference, but I think there might have been tears in his eyes. Itʼs through this kind of earnestness that Born Ruffians have earned their following. Straightforward, honest songs like “What to Say” are all the more disarming live; adolescent awkwardness never sounded quite so danceable. It was hard not to follow Luke Lalondeʼs example, watching him skitter across the stage during particularly energetic solos, almost as though he were channeling Duckieʼs Otis Redding dance, while Mitch Derosier worked up the sweat of a thousand men and encouraged us to clap along and do the same.

I wonʼt dance around the point, here. I gave in. Born Ruffians are cute. In fact, theyʼre not just cute–theyʼre fucking precious. Derosierʼs just so goddamn hammy. Lalondeʼs just so goddamn quiet. The banter, measured out in perfectly small doses – Christ, there are so many bands out there who are awful at banter. Born Ruffians are not such a band. Their faster songs are just so goddamn giddy!

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The decision to fill the set with older favorites seemed to be a concession to the fans who have watched them grow over the years–those fans who, like birth marks, have stuck with them from the beginning. Set against newer, soberer tracks like “Needles,” the earlier, more raucous tracks like “I Need a Life” evoked the finitude of childhood.

The crowd sang along to just about every song on the setlist–but the first song of the encore, “Little Garcon,” stuck out in particular: “I donʼt care where you go, / As long as itʼs with me.” Wherever Born Ruffiansʼ career takes them next, their fans are sure to follow.

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