The National, Arcade Fire, Live in Kansas City

Posted in Music on April 29th, 2011 by Tom

So I took a little Easter vacation, both from school and from the blog, and while I was doing that, I saw the greatest musical pairing of my entire life.

The National, my favorite band circa 2008-2010, and the Arcade Fire, who had my favorite release of 2010 and the most intimidating back-catalog in all of indie music, played in my hometown of Kansas City, MO on April 20th.

Somehow, “amazing” doesn’t quite cut it. First, the track list:

Main Set (The National)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Anyone’s Ghost
Mistaken For Strangers
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Abel
England
Fake Empire
Mr. November
Terrible Love
About Today

When I was gearing up for this show, I checked out what they played only a few days prior at Coachella (it was more or less the above), and rolled my eyes when I saw ‘Abel’ and ‘Mr. November’. Not that I don’t like those songs, I just didn’t like them enough to need to still hear them live, given how long ago they were released.

What a fool I was. These guys know exactly what they’re doing. The screamy songs from their earlier records actually sound better than the recorded versions because of Matt Berninger’s erratic, spontaneous live performance, and have earned their long stays in the group’s live repertoire.

Slower tracks like ‘Slow Show’ are suddenly given new life on stage, carrying an energy that surprised me, and really suited the material well.

I was glad to hear ‘Fake Empire’ and ‘Terrible Love’ late in the set, as they’re probably my two favorites, despite not being particularly deep cuts. I was most surprised to hear ‘Squalor Victoria’ which is a cornerstone (for me) of 2007’s Boxer, and ‘Conversation 16’ which is a (utterly fantastic) song about zombies, as near as I can figure.


‘About Today’ [Bonaroo, 2010]
[ mp3 ♫ ]

To close the set, the group played ‘About Today‘ from their Cherry Tree EP, which I don’t think I’d heard before, though I think it is a regular closer for the band. They dedicated it to TV On The Radio’s Gerard Smith, who had died earlier that morning from a battle with cancer. It was a really kind gesture, and the song was poignant and emotive to match.

It was unfortunate that they didn’t get an encore, but I feel like that’s a faux pas as an opening act.

[Additional Songs I’d Have Liked To Have Heard:
Secret Meeting, All The Wine, Ada, Start A War (got played two days later at the Chicago set, with Win Butler doing the backup vocals!), You’ve Done It Again Virginia, Sorrow]

And now for the main act…

Main Set (Arcade Fire)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Month of May
Ready to Start
Rebellion (Lies)
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Haiti
Empty Room
Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)
Rococo
The Suburbs & Reprise
Intervention
We Used to Wait
Keep the Car Running
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Wake Up

Encore (Arcade Fire)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Where to begin… at the start, I suppose? There is a kitschy video into with ’70s movies advertisement bumpers, complete with clips from the seminal(…?) cult-classic The Warriors. “Can you dig it?!?!?!” he asks; you bet.

‘Month of May’ is a song that I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw what explosive energy it has as a set-opener. Or maybe I’m just in a fuzzy-guitar phase, who knows, but it was a good starting point nonetheless. On the whole, the set list was appreciably different from AF’s Coachella set.

The composition of the set (The Suburbs-7, Neon Bible-3, Funeral-7) was interesting. The prevalence of the new material made sense, but three Neon Bible songs to Funeral‘s seven seemed a little stacked; then again, it is Funeral… Not a complaint really, because I got to hear ‘Intervention‘ which fixes pretty much anything, but I would have given up a few of the slower Funeral tracks to hear ‘Windowsill’ or ‘The Well and the Lighthouse’.


‘Intervention’ [KCRW, 2005]
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Arcade Fire has a few tricks up their sleeve for their live set: extended cuts of ‘Ready to Start’ and ‘N. #3 (Power Out)’, as well as the coupling of ‘The Suburbs’ with its Reprise, not to mention a really engaging visual presentation through both video and lighting all work to make this set far greater than simply the sum of its parts.

Remember the postcard thing at the end of http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/? They really did end up as the video overlay for ‘We Used To Wait’, which was awesome, having spent some time playing with that site last summer.

Getting the full quartet of the ‘Neighborhood’ tracks in one set was kinda cool, even if I don’t care for #4 as much as the rest.

‘Wake Up’ was the final song of the main set, which everyone seemed to be expecting. As much as I love that tune, I don’t like it as much as everyone else. It’s big and anthem-y, and that’s great, because it’s really cool when everyone sings along with it, but I don’t quite understand how it became the quintessential AF song.

And a two-song encore? I wanted three! But at that point, I was just starting to get sad that it was ending.

The two they saved were the huge, explosive, melt-your-face ‘N. #2 (Power Out)’, and the song that I think deserves to unseat ‘Wake Up’ as the go-to Arcade Fire anthem, ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. Both songs had the energy of a sprint-to-the-finish that left the audience breathless by the end, and it was a great way to complete the night.

It was a tremendous opportunity to see this ensemble work their craft, especially because no single member ever fell into the background. A special thanks goes to Will Butler, who ran around the stage like a crazy man, which I enjoyed immensely.

[Additional Songs I’d Have Liked To Have Heard:
Crown of Love, The Well and the Lighthouse, (Antichrist Television Blues), Windowsill, City With No Children (also got played at the Chicago set), Modern Man, Suburban War]

Few! Sorry for so long of a recap. It was a hell of a show, to have your two favorite groups playing at an awesome venue in your hometown, back-to-back. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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Mailbag: Volume 3, Breakfast of Champions

Posted in Mailbag, Music on April 13th, 2011 by Tom

AUTHOR’S NOTE: From time to time, I get e-mails from artists suggesting that I might be interested in their music. The “mailbag” is my attempt to give back by showcasing the talent of those emerging artists whose work I genuinely enjoyed.

Boston’s own Breakfast of Champions sent me their most recent track, ‘Reservoir‘, which was just released in late February.


‘Reservoir’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

In trying to come up with a way to describe this song, I arrived at ‘elemental’. The components are not especially exotic (percussion, very light synth, bass, lead guitar, distinctive vocals, horns), but there’s an elegance in the simplicity of ‘Reservoir’.

What I like especially about the song is that it was mixed such that at any instant you can hone in on an individual component of the track. Too much music now devolves into a cacophonous wall of sound, and all the detail is obscured. Breakfast of Champions provides a track here that has stunning clarity without sacrificing texture.

It’s also subversively catchy; proof pudding that all politics is local, I really ended up enjoying the tune a lot.

In a funny coincidence, I go to school nearby the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, and so in my head this song is about something I see every day, even if that’s probably not the band’s intent. I’m very excited to find out what happens to the group, and hopefully I can catch them at a show before too long.

Breakfast of Champions Bandcamp Page

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Last Night on Earth

Posted in Music on April 8th, 2011 by Tom

After last week’s blogging frenzy, I took a little break. Back now, in any case, with a few thoughts on the latest effort from Londoners Noah and the Whale.

My previous exposure to the band is limited, having heard their breakout song ‘5 Years Time’, which I loved, and a some pre-release material from 2009’s The First Days of Spring, which I didn’t care for, and so I never bothered looking into the full album.

So it was with a little reservation that I listened to the streaming version of this year’s Last Night on Earth. The album opens with the slow-and-steady ‘Life Is Life’, which is a really nice preface to the record. The real start, however, and what caught my ear, was ‘Tonight’s the Kind of Night‘.


‘Tonight’s the Kind of Night’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

It’s got an anxious rhythm that keeps the tune moving, and there’s something Meatloaf-esque about the vocals that gives this song a really vintage feel that I absolutely love. The “woooooahhhh-ooooahhhhhhh”s in the bridge are also great too. It’s a song that is big without being epic, and stirs just enough emotion to make you want cause a little mischief. Makes you want to shake things up, just a little.

The next song, the lead single and perhaps the most obnoxious title to type, ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.’, has me a little torn. I like the pacing and the lyrics of the verses, which are really solid prose, and even the part which gives the album its namesake,

On my last night on earth, I won’t look to the sky
Just breathe in the air and blink in the light
On my last night on earth, I’ll pay a high price
To have no regrets and be done with my life

My one complaint is the spelling gimmick of the chorus. It just irritates me because it somehow strikes me as a little childish. Nearly any other introverted indie-hipster-rockstar drivel in there and I would probably not have a problem, but this particular thing irked me a little, even after plenty of listens. Still a good song, but maybe not as good as it could have been.

‘Wild Thing’ slows it down a little, and ‘Give it All Back’ speeds it right back up. They’re solid entries that bolster the overarching thematic sense of viewing adolescence through a lens of nostalgia. Still in this vein is ‘Just Me, Before We Met‘ which is a really honest track about how silly we look to ourselves after enough time.


‘Just Me, Before We Met’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

My favorite thing about this song is the contrast between the subdued verses and the energetic chorus, set to the backdrop of looking back on your younger years with a sense of humor.

After a well-placed instrumental track, ‘Waiting for My Chance to Come’ is the last really fun song. It’s the most direct, purposeful song on the record, and is a pretty strong anchor late in the album.

Following it is the black sheep of the bunch. ‘The Line’ is a surprisingly dark, thoughtful song exploring the limits of what one can tolerate in a life or a relationship. A really nice addition to the album, it adds a certain degree of depth to a work that would otherwise be a little fluffy. I’d like to see what Noah and the Whale could accomplish by following this idea, but I worry that their ‘sound’ is just too friendly to really get much harsher than this.

The closer is the only dud, trying to infuse gospel backing vocals with a forlorn, wandering lead in an effort to end on a pensive note. It ends up being somewhat dull, which is a discredit to an otherwise fun and energetic record.

Is Last Night on Earth an especially deep piece of music? No, but it never aspired to be, and so that’s hardly to its discredit. As a very listenable set with some fun songs and zero pretension, it a rare find in that regard and something to take note of. It’s also a further refinement of Noah and the Whale’s sound in a direction that I think plays fantastically to the band’s strengths.

Noah and the Whale – Last Night on Earth

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Live Tracks from LCD’s Madison Square Garden Show

Posted in Music on April 3rd, 2011 by Tom

I spent most of tonight watching the LCD Soundsystem farewell show at Madison Square Garden, and it did not disappoint.

Word ’round the campfire is that Spike Jonze was on the scene to direct the filming of the entire spectacle, so keep your eyes open for the impending DVD release. It’s one that’ll be well worth the money.

Below are the handful of tracks I ripped from the capture I took of the show. They’re all really good, but my feed decided to buffer in the middle of ‘North American Scum’, which was one of the best parts because of a highly entertaining guest appearance by members of Arcade Fire! So that’s not here (if anyone has it, I’d be really appreciative!).


‘All My Friends’
[ mp3 ♫ ]


‘You Wanted a Hit’
[ mp3 ♫ ]


‘Someone Great’
[ mp3 ♫ ]


‘Home’
[ mp3 ♫ ]
(Sorry, this one has a dull patch in the middle I did my best to fix; plugged in my headphones which screwed with the capture feed…)

I hope you enjoy them, even if you missed the show. It was truly an emotional evening, and one I don’t think any participating LCD fan will ever forget it.

EDIT: CoS had the YouTube video of the one piece I really wanted but missed:


‘North American Scum (ft. Arcade Fire)’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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LCD Signs Off

Posted in Music on April 2nd, 2011 by Tom

2010’s masterful This Is Happening opens with ‘Dance Yrself Clean’, featured previously on this blog. It includes the lyrics,

Every night’s a different story
It’s a thirty car pile-up with you
Everybody’s getting younger
It’s the end of an era, it’s true

The last of which seems especially appropriate, given that tonight LCD Soundsystem will play their final no-holds-barred Madison Square Garden show (you can watch it live over at Pitchfork). As a late-comer to the LCD party, I don’t feel entirely like my grief over the loss of the band is justified, but what the hell.


‘All My Friends’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

They were a fantastic band that was a class act both in and beyond their music. They will be missed, but while most bands fade away into obscurity, chasing past glories, Murphy and his crew are going out on top, in maybe the biggest and best possible way they know: throwing one last show-to-end-all-shows for their fans.

A few goodies are included below; first is the video that made me a believer in the band:

The other is a really well-done video for the closing track on their most recent (and last) album:

LCD Soundsystem Discography @ Amazon.com

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