Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘indie rock’

By Joel Francis

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a lot of things away, but one thing it has provided me in abundance is plenty of extra time at home. I decided to make the most of my social distancing by doing a deep dive through my album collection. As the turntable spun, I was inspired to write about what I heard.

My intent is to provide brief snippets about each day’s albums. I understand that many of these classic recordings deserve lengthy posts on their own, but since we will be covering a lot of ground here I will try to remain brisk and on point. Ready? Let’s get to it.

Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (1980) Sabbath’s first half-dozen albums are rightly canonical. Heaven and Hell isn’t as groundbreaking but every bit as enjoyable as those classic platters. Sadly, the Ronnie James Dio era of Sabbath is mostly remembered by headbangers these days. This is the only Sabbath album I own, but I look forward to someday adding Mob Rules to the collection.

Hot Water Music – Light It Up (2017) – Playing the most recent album from the veteran Florida rock band was intended to wet my whistle for their concert at the RecordBar, scheduled just a few days away. Alas, like everything else on the horizon it was moved forward on the calendar until a hopefully calmer time. With a name swiped from Charles Bukowski and a sound like gasoline arguing with barbed wire the show is guaranteed to be a winner whenever it is held.

The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever (2010) This was my least-favorite Hold Steady album when it was released and I confess I haven’t played it as much as the albums that preceded and followed it. I thought the departure of multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay left too much of a hole in their sound, though the band sounded great when I saw them on this tour. Playing it now, I don’t think I gave Heaven is Whenever is enough credit at the time. It’s not a masterpiece on the scale of Boys and Girls in America and not as fierce as Teeth Dreams but there are some freaking fine moments, including “Our Whole Lives,” buried at the end of side two.

Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984) What can be said about this landmark that hasn’t been said before? To be fair, this album was a request from my five-year-old son who loves “Dancing in the Dark” thanks to E Street Radio. “Dancing” is the next-to-last track, meaning he exposed to 10 other great tunes while waiting for his favorite number. Hopefully a few more of them will stick, although I’m not sure I want him singing “I’m on Fire” quite yet.

The Yawpers – American Man (2015) This Denver-based trio fits in well on Bloodshot’s roster of alt-country acts. Songwriter Nate Cook’s early 21st-centry examination of the U.S. of A. plays like a road trip. On songs like “9 to 5,” “Kiss It” and “Walter” they sound like Uncle Tupelo being chased through the Overlook Hotel by Jack Torrance.

The Highwomen – self-titled (2019) I toured the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville a few years ago. I was fascinated by the museum until the timeline reached the late 1980s. After Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle came on the scene, mainstream country and I quickly parted ways. The four songwriters in Highwomen are trying to reclaim popular country music on their own terms. Many, many great artists have tried to bend Music City to their tastes only to retreat exhausted. The best of them found Music Row sucking up to their pioneering sound only after it became popular. My guess is that the Highwomen will follow this same route, but they are so good you can’t rule out they will be the ones to finally break the stale, chauvinistic stockade.

(I say this and then notice that I’ve namedropped two male country stars in this piece without mentioning any of the female members of the Highwomen. Sigh. Please forgive me, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby and Maren Morris.)

Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy! (2019) The Ivy League-educated neo-soul songstress focuses on the small to show us the large on her second album. Each of the thirteen tracks focus on an important black artists – Nikki Giovanni, Eartha Kitt, Jean-Michel Basquiat – explore what it means to be black in America today. What sounds like an academic thesis is actually a good dance album, thanks to a soundscape that slides between jazz, soul, hip hop, Afro-beat and even touches of EDM.

Jeff Tweedy – Together at Last (2017) Thanks to the film “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Jeff Tweedy’s bands Uncle Tupelo and Wilco barely made it into the mainstream before the monoculture collapsed and the entertainment world splintered into a million micro-genres and sects. The eleven songs performed here are stripped of all wonky production and distilled to voice and guitar. They are still amazing.

Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon (1970) Joni Mitchell’s work in the 1970s is every bit as good as Neil Young’s and even better than Bob Dylan’s. This album finds Mitchell branching out by adding more instruments to the guitar-and-voice arrangements found on her first two albums. The jazz clarinet solo at the end of “For Free” gets me every time. Three of Mitchell’s biggest songs are tucked at the end of side two. “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock” set up “The Circle Game,” a look at mortality than never fails to leave me feeling deeply blue.

Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic (1979) Ringo’s All-Starr Band isn’t the place for deep cuts, so I knew when Ian Hunter was listed as the guitar player for the 2001 tour I held a ticket for, I knew I was going to hear “Cleveland Rocks.” The only problem was the show was in St. Louis, so it didn’t really work. That’s Hunter’s catalog in a nutshell for me. All the right ingredients are there on paper and I get excited about hearing the albums when I read the reviews, but they never fully click with me. His releases are so plentiful in the used bins and priced so cheaply I keep giving them a shot hoping the next one will be The One.

Bear Hands – Fake Tunes (2019) Another play anticipating a performance that was cancelled. They descending keyboard part on “Blue Lips” reminds me of a good appropriation of Vampire Weekend’s first album (that’s a compliment). The overall vibe sends me to the same place as Beck’s “Guero” and “The Information” albums.

Thom Yorke – Susperia (2018) I’m not sure we needed a remake of Susperia, the 1977 Italian horror classic, but I’m glad it gave us Thom Yorke’s moody score. Trading his laptop for a piano, the Radiohead frontman provides 80 minutes of spare, melancholy instrumentals. The few vocal tracks make you wish there were more.

Yorke performed in Kansas City, Mo., less than two months after Susperia’s release, but ignored his latest album until the final song of the night. His performance of Unmade alone at the keyboard was the perfect benediction for a skittery night of electronic music.

Jack White and the Bricks – Live on the Garden Bowl Lanes: 1999 (2013)

The Go – Whatcha Doin’ (1999) These albums both arrived courtesy of the Third Man Records Vault and were recorded around the same time. Jack White was always a man of a million projects. When Meg was unavailable for a White Stripes show he grabbed some buddies – including future Raconteur Brendan Benson and Dirtbombs drummer Ben Blackwell – for a set including a couple songs that would become Stripes staples, a pair of Bob Dylan covers and a song by ? and the Mysterians (not 96 Tears). The sound is a little rough but the performance is solid.

The debut album from The Go, Whatcha Doin’ is hefty slab of garage rock guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Jack White plays guitar and co-writes a couple songs, but this isn’t his show. He left the band shortly after the album came out, but there was no animosity. In 2003, The Go opened several shows for the White Stripes in the United Kingdom.

Syl Johnson – We Do It Together (compilation) This is the sixth platter in the amazing Complete Mythology box set released by the Numero Group in 2010.The material starts in 1970 and ends in 1977, omitting the time Johnson spent with Hi Records. Never lacking in self-confidence, Johnson frequently claimed he was every bit as good as James Brown and Al Green. Although he doesn’t have their notoriety, Johnson’s albums could easily slip into a DJ set of those soul masters.

Read Full Post »

(Above: The RZA and Paul Banks tear down the Tank Room in Kansas City, Mo. with “Giant.” The frenetic performance literally had the floor shaking.) 

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

As the guitarist and singer for Interpol and mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan, Paul Banks and the RZA, a.k.a. Bobby Steelz, have filled and commanded spaces far bigger than the intimate Tank Room. Wednesday night, the duo treated a sold-out crowd to a masterful mashup of indie rock and hip-hop.

The seemingly disparate musical approaches have driven each artist to deliver some of their best work. On party tracks like “Sword in the Stone,” Banks’ soulful indie rock chorus played off RZA’s aggressive verses. Other times, formula reversed itself when RZA’s insistent contribution punctuated Banks moody vocals.

banks-steelzThe hourlong set comprised all but one song of the duo’s debut album, and ignored their other groups. The night started with the soulful yet ominous “Point of View” before exploding with “Ana Electronic.” Fans may not have been able to sing every word, but they had no problem swaying to the beat.

The room reached fever pitch with “Giant,” the album’s lead track, which has been generating airplay and online buzz. As Banks sang “everything is shaking through the walls” on the chorus, the floor was literally pulsing with the rhythms of everyone dancing.

RZA took the stage holding a large bottle of vodka. After several liberal pulls, he distributed cups along the front row and filled them before passing the bottle into the crowd. Later in the show, he popped open a bottle of champagne and sprayed the room.

A woman on the front row and her companion were singled out by RZA to set up “Can’t Hardly Feel,” a song about loving someone who belongs to another.

While the RZA had the flash and energy to command attention, it was in moments like this that Banks quietly stole the spotlight. His plaintive tenor drove not only “Can’t Hardly Feel,” but the philosophical “One by One” and the potent “Speedway Sonora.”

Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick supported the duo, turning the group into an all-star trio. His tight bossa nova rhythms anchored the song “Wild Season” and showed why RZA later called him the human drum machine. The three stretched out instrumentally only once, during “Conceal,” when Banks’ lengthy guitar solo gave way to RZA’s keyboard/organ.

Setlist: Point of View, Ana Electronic, Love and War, Sword in the Stone, Wild Season, Conceal, Speedway Sonora, One By One, Can’t Hardly Feel, Giant, Anything but Words.

Keep reading

Review: Snoop Dogg with Method Man and Redman

Album review – “Stax: The Soul of Hip-Hop”

Peter, Bjorn and John Heart Hip Hop

 

Read Full Post »

(Above: Local Natives embrace “Villany,” one of several standout tunes performed during a swift, damp autumn concert at Crossroads KC in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

With thunderstorms looming on the Doppler radar Saturday night, indie rockers Local Natives took the stage ahead of schedule and wrapped up before the weather portion of the local news aired. No umbrellas were needed.

Crossroads KC was about a third full, with most of the crowd standing comfortably in front of the sound tent.

0926 rev local natives 0924The Southern California quartet expertly generates songs that serve as atmospheric pieces with anthemic vocals. Their sound recalls the National and Fleet Foxes, with a splash of Radiohead and Talking Heads. Electronic textures compliment the soaring, earnest vocals and make the music both easy to dance to and sing with.

The versatile musicians traded roles frequently throughout the night, performing in front of a white curtain, frequently backlit and visible only as silhouettes. The lighting was even more dramatic when the wind whipped through the curtain.

While the scope was cinematic, the songs were compact. It took the band just 80 minutes to deliver 17 songs. “Coins” opened with a funky stop-start rhythm that lifted a lot of hands into the air. Opening act Charlotte Day Wilson joined the band for a duet of “Dark Days.” She danced at her mic between verses, relishing the moment.

One of the night’s most powerful moments came on “Colombia.” Accompanied only by his guitar and Taylor Rice on piano, Kelcey Ayer sang about his mother’s death. The somber moment hovered as the rest of the band returned to the stage for the crescendo.

Somehow, that number segued into “Fountain of Youth,” a poppy new song that references a female president and bounces with a chorus of “We can do whatever we want.” Although the songs were polar opposites, the journey was flawless.

Local Natives’ third album, “Sunlit Youth” was released a little more than two weeks ago, but the crowd seemed familiar with the material. Several of its songs — including “Villany” — drew generous responses. The set list was pretty much split between new songs and material from “Hummingbird,” the group’s second album. A few songs from their 2009 debut were included for good measure.

One of those early songs ended the night on discordant and satisfying note. With Nik Ewing’s bass galloping over noisy guitars, “Sun Hands” recalled “Boy”-era U2. The most boisterous and least contained number of the night ended with low feedback — and rainclouds — hanging in the air as the band waved goodnight.

Setlist: Past Lives; Wide Eyes; Villany; You and I; Breakers; Mother Emmanuel; Airplanes; Ceilings; Heavy Feet; Coins; Dark Days (with Charlotte Day Wilson); Masters; Colombia; Fountain of Youth; Who Knows Who Cares. Encore:Sea of Years; Sun Hands.

Keep reading:

Review: TV on the Radio

Middle of the Map 2013

Review: Devotchka

 

Read Full Post »

(Above: TV on the Radio perform “Could You,” a song from their newest album, on March 21, 2015, at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

TV on the Radio is no stranger to Kansas City. Nearly eight years ago to the day, the indie rock band delivered a transcendent performance at the Voodoo Lounge. They have returned twice since then, in support of their subsequent two releases.

Saturday night, the Brooklyn-based, indie rock band played at the Midland theater, their largest venue in town to date, in front of their biggest crowd.

The first five songs of the night all came from “Seeds,” the band’s latest album. They would return to it again twice more, and also perform a non-album single drawn from those sessions. A red strobe light enveloped the stage during opening number “Lazerray,” making the band look like a stop-motion video from the future.

Later, the red, green and yellow beams of light crossing the stage during the “Seeds”’ title track recalled the album’s cover. The chorus on that song sounds like a lost African proverb: “Rain comes down like it always does/This time I’ve got seeds on ground.” As singer Tunde Adebimpe repeated the uplifting message, the music slowly built in intensity, threatening to overwhelm the room.

Musically, TV on the Radio can be hard to pin down. At times they can sound like Peter Gabriel, as on set-closer “Staring at the Sun,” or Radiohead, or Joy Division. While there are some obvious touchstones — Bono would kill for the silky falsetto guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone used on “Million Miles” — TV’s sound is generally too mercurial for a game of spot-the-influence. They are clearly pointing the way forward more than they are looking back.

The stage was set simply, with no screens or effects aside from the light show. Though frontman Adebimpe was energetic, the core quartet and touring drummer and keyboard/horn player stayed in place. Arranger/producer/jack-of-all-trades Dave Sitek stood at stage left behind a table of gadgets and next to a bank of synthesizers. He rotated between guitar and the rest of his tricks like the man behind the curtain.

Although the show was skimpy on older numbers (and questionably skimpy in general at just 15 songs and 80 minutes), predictably they were the ones that drew the biggest response.

“Wolf Like Me” inspired a feral sing-along. For the encore, the band went back to its two earliest singles, “Young Liars” and “Staring at the Sun.” Neither could be described as inspiring, but it was moving to hear the room come together in one voice.

If we are fortunate, TV on the Radio will return again in a couple years, with a new batch of songs to perform. We will miss the older numbers they displace, but not too much. After 15 years and six albums, they remain a band on the rise, with no horizon in sight.

Setlist: Lazerray, Golden Age, Happy Idiot, Seeds, Could You, Wolf Like Me, Trouble, Million Miles, Blues from Down Here, Winter, Dancing Choose, Love Dog, DLZ. Encore: Young Liars, Staring at the Sun.

Keep reading:

Read Full Post »

(Above: Best Coast perform “No One Like You” at the Granada Theater in Lawrence, Kan., on May 26, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The backdrop depicted a large bear embracing the state of California, a nice metaphor for the music emanating just a few yards closer. For 75 minutes Sunday night at the Granada, indie-pop duo Best Coast showcased the many of the Golden State’s finest musical attributes: girl groups, surf guitars and bubbly pop melodies about summer and love.

The band makes a strong case for being their home state’s finest musical ambassadors since the Beach Boys. Opening number “The Only Place,” the title track to their recently released sophomore album, set the stage. “We’ve got the ocean/got the babes/got the sun/got the waves,” Beth Cosentino sang over jangly guitars. “So leave your cold behind/we’re gonna make it to the beach on time.”
The sun is usually out in Cosentino’s musical world, but not always in her heart. Her lyrics are direct and confessional, often reading like diary entries about lost, misplaced or inconvenient love. The band’s 2010 debut had a lo-fi feel that added to the intimacy of her words. Onstage, the twosome of Cosentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno are touring with a bass player for the first time. Combined with a new drummer, they finally had a live rhythm section that adds muscle and potency to the music.The bass added depth to the sound and gave Bruno more freedom on his guitar. The drumming enhanced the sense of desperation in “Why I Cry” and gave urgency to “Angsty.”Cosentino’s pop memoirs of longing came tumbling one after another. The set list comprised nearly all of “The Only Place,” more than half of their debut “Crazy For You” and a handful of singles. The whole room was dancing for the bouncy pairing of “Let’s Go Home” and “Our Deal,” but the slower material went over just as well thanks to Cosentino’s captivating voice. An emotional cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms” hinted at the direction Cosentino’s songwriting may be headed. It covered the same romantic terrain, but boasted more lyrical maturity and depth.

Cosentino and Bruno clearly aren’t tired of playing “Boyfriend,” their breakout hit. Cosentino threw herself into the delivery, nearly growling the words “how I want him.” The pair were all smiles throughout the one-two of early singles “When I’m With You” and “Boyfriend” that ended the night.

Just as Best Coast benefited away from the blistering sun and heat that capsized their mid-day slot at Kanrocksas last summer, opener Jeff the Brotherhood was better suited for the Granada than the cavernous Midland Theater, where they opened for the Kills last winter.

The sibling duo from Nashville’s half-hour set was driven by guitarist Jake Orrall’s 3-string, hybrid guitar. The axe featured a Gibson body and bass neck and was filtered, flanged and phased about every way imaginable, often sounding like Black Sabbath’s meeting with Swamp Thing. The high point of their set was “I’m a Freak,” a straight-up, classic rock guitar jam in the vein of “Stranglehold.”

Setlist: The Only Place, Last Year, Angsty, Summer Mood, Goodbye, Crazy For You, Sun Don’t Shine, No One Like You, How They Want Me To Be, Why I Cry, Mean Girls, Dreaming My Life Away, Let’s Go Home, Our Deal, Do You Love Me Like You Used To, Up All Night. Encore: I Want To, Sun Was High, Storms (Fleetwood Mac cover), When I’m With You, Boyfriend.

Keep reading:

Review: Andrew Bird

Review: Best Coast and Kanrocksas Music Fest

Review: Devotchka

Read Full Post »

(Above: Andrew Bird and his band break into some bluegrass at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo., on March 23, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Indie rock singer/songwriter Andrew Bird told the crowd at the Uptown Theater on Friday night that this was his first “proper” show in Kansas City. The statement conveniently overlooks his 2007 opening slot for Wilco at Crossroads, but in a way it was true. Bird flew solo opening for Wilco – Friday he had a full band.

When an artist can call on as many musical talents as Bird – who plays violin, guitar and glockenspiel and sings and whistles – it begs the question of what an ensemble can bring to an already rich arrangement.Bird started both the main set and the encore alone, showcasing his considerable talents. The hallmark of Bird’s one-man-band performances was how he layered and looped his plucked, strummed and bowed violin to create a singular orchestra. With those elements and his virtuosic violin talents front and center, “Carrion Suite” felt a bit like a recital.

As the band entered during “Nyatiti” each musician gradually revealed what he could bring to an already full table. Alan Hampton’s bowed upright bass at the end of “Desperation Breeds …” coupled with Bird’s violin to create psychedelic chamber music. His electric bass playing paired nicely with Bird’s loops to add extra urgency and muscle to several songs, including a dynamic “Plasticities.”

Guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker rarely took a solo, but added great texture and feeling, especially on “Lusitania.” At times, the dimensions of plucked violins created the same kind of percussive atmosphere favored by Paul Simon. Drummer Martin Dosh had no trouble enhancing and playing off those polyrhythms.

Despite all the musical elements happening at once, the sound was pristine, with each instrument clear and distinct throughout the night. An impressive light show enhanced each performance. As a series of lights cascaded over the crowd, the four abstract sculptures hanging over the stage looked like flames, whisps of smoke or clouds depending on the mood.

The 100-minute set drew heavily from this year’s “Break It Yourself” album. The night ended with a sound impossible to replicate alone, as Bird, Ylvisaker and Hampton played crowded around one mic. Their acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies blended masterfully on the dark “So Much Wine” and hopeful “I’m Goin’ Home.”

Setlist: Carrion Suite > Nyatiti, Danse Carribe, Desperation Breeds …, Measuring Cups, Fitz and the Dizzyspells, Give It Away, Eyeoneye, Near Death Experience Experience, Lusitania, Orpheo Looks Back, Scythian Empires, Plasticities, Tables and Chairs > Fake Palindromes. Encore: Dr. Stringz, So Much Wine (Handsome Family cover); I’m Goin’ Home (Charley Patton cover).

Keep reading:

Read Full Post »

(Above: Frank Black visits “Manitoba” all by his lonesome.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

It’s hard to believe, but the Pixies have been around as a reunion act for almost as long as their original incarnation. When Frank Black (aka Black Francis) announced his new project shortly after the Pixies’ first triumphant reunion tour, few could have predicted where he would end up.

The self-taught, idiosyncratic king of indie rock was working in Nashville, Tenn., with seasoned session musicians. The impulse yielded two albums, 2005’s “Honeycomb” and 2006’s double album “Fast Man Raider Man.” Earlier this year Black announced a third Music City installment was on the horizon.

“If you’re into the pop music of the 20th century and you happen to be a post-punk record maker, chances are you’ll like Patsy Cline and Miles Davis,” Black said. “Most rock musicians aren’t going to put out a bebop album, so we go to blues, folk, roots music, whatever you want to call it. It’s not that much of a jump for me — it’s all part of the same grassy hillside.”

It’s also a road well traveled. In 1966, Bob Dylan left New York City to record at the CBS studios in Nashville with the day’s top session players. More recently, Robert Plant ventured to middle Tennessee to work with Allison Krauss and Buddy Miller.

“The reason why you see this happening again and again is because of the opportunity to play with some of the best musicians in the world,” Black said. “It’s not just country music, but R&B and the whole world of 1950s and ’60s pop recording.”

Black’s collaborators are a world removed from the Boston underground scene where the Pixies formed in the mid-’80s. His album credits today include Muscle Shoals legends Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, Stax guitarist Steve Cropper and drummer Chester Thompson, pal of Genesis and Frank Zappa.

During sessions in Los Angeles, Black worked with Funk Brother Bob Babbitt, Al Kooper, Phil Spector veteran Carol Kaye and drummer Jim Keltner. Grab any of your favorite major-label albums from the late ’50s to the mid-1970s and at least one of these names will be found on the sleeve.

“I guess you could say the era peaked in the ’60s and got a bad rap in the ’70s, because by then there was just too much easy-listening and knockoff, quickie records,” Black said. “But the people who grew up under the punk badge were young 20-somethings who didn’t have a lot of money and shopped at used clothing stores and decorated their apartments with kitsch. All of a sudden, out come those old Dean Martin albums again. Ultimately, what you rebel against becomes hip again.”

When Black comes to town on Monday, he’ll be without any of his all-star assistants. In fact, Black’s only company onstage will be his acoustic guitar. But regardless of his surroundings, Black said, his goal is the same: to satisfy the customers.

“That’s where I’m at now and it’s no different from when I played my first gig,” Black said.

“It’s all part of the world of the musician. Sometimes you play huge festivals for tons of money in front of tons of people, other times you’re playing Knuckleheads in Kansas City. Both are equally valid.”

Keep reading:

Review: Pavement

Review: Robert Plant and Allison Krauss

Dinosaur Jr Sets High Bar For Reunion Albums

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »