Friday, November 19, 2010

Omar Souleyman

Omar Souleyman played at one of my school's theaters, so I went! Then I put my thoughts in a newspaper.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Burning Down the Haus

Yesterday I went to the Whitehaus in Jamaica Plain for the first time. The Haus houses DIY shows each week, many from their collective, the Whitehaus Family Record. Events usually focus on area artists, but they manage to bag some out-of-towners as well (Dirty Projector Nat Baldwin, for example, will hit up the Whitehaus on Friday). Last night's show featured local favorites Hands & Knees, a solo set from QUILT singer Anna Fox, a pair of Brooklyn ladies going by Feather & Folly, and troubadour Pelvis McGillicuddy.

Pelvis, aside from a love song or two, used his set to break down partisan barriers through the power of music. Labeling himself an ultra-progressive Nader-voter, Pelvis hopes to harmonize with the tea baggers over frustrations with the Obama administration. His tune "God Will Appear," he admitted, is basically an attempt to trick conservatives into agreeing with him before they can realize he's a far left maniac--if you're trying to appeal to the right, he says, you've got to start with God. "Tea Party Victory Song"--for which, rather than playing live, he debuted a construction paper-style music video--is even less subtle. In the video, a cartoon Pelvis holds up cards listing his problems with the president as the overriding music sympathetically pokes fun at the Tea Party movement. Though I sincerely doubt any far-righters were in attendance, the set did inspire a brief debate about the electoral college between Pelvis and a patron. So that's something.

Feather & Folly, meanwhile, don't aim to spark any controversy with their sparse, cooing pop-folk. The slower songs are pretty vanilla, but they manage to show some personality when they rollick a bit. "How I Break," for example, has a pleasant urgency to it and "Country Hands"--which the girls informed Pelvis was the closest they'd ever get to a political song-- has been stuck in my head since the show, with its saccharinely peaceful refrain of "Hate has got to go." Despite frustrations with an out-of-tune guitar and the lead singer's constant roof-gazing, they held their own with strong harmonizing and generally endearing stage presence.

Anna Fox took the night in a different direction by introducing some electronic equipment. She played a short set of psych-folk that mostly centered on layering guitar lines with a loop pedal. Her rich build-ups have a bluesy feel that sets her apart from fellow one-person sampling bands like Atlas Sound. And she's not depressing, either, like Grouper, who Anna told me she's been meaning to listen to because a bunch of people have compared them. Overall, the set was pretty entrancing, but certainly disappointing when she ended so quickly.

Hands & Knees closed the night and absolutely destroyed, not just figuratively: Lead singer Joe O'Brien accidentally demolished the miniature tambourine that was strapped to his leg as he bounded about the room. The group fired power-pop banger after power-pop banger at us, and despite being a stripped down, drumerless set, the performance was not lacking in percussion thanks to heavy stomping from the crowd. The mood was boosted by the performers' obvious joy--O'Brien engaged bassist Carina Kelly in vigorous staring contests while playing which without fail left her cracking up. Friends and family (the two groups, conveniently, that compose 100% of my readership) are aware that nothing makes me swoon more than when band members genuinely laugh onstage during songs. Oh, how I love it. Even the many band conferences about which song to play next (which faithfully followed every single tune despite the fact that O'Brien had a piece of paper with a setlist on it) didn't diminish the energy and vibes.

In conclusion, I'm definitely going back at least a million times.

Chandelier picture from

Monday, November 1, 2010

Q&A with City Slickers

A great Boston rap trio, City Slickers, came by WERS last week. I talked with them after their in-studio session, and the Q&A has been posted here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Black Mountain

I wrote an article about Black Mountain for Emerson College's newspaper, the Berkeley Beacon. The piece is a combination concert preview, bio, and album review. Enjoy it so fast.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Love Experiment

I'm writing for Boston's oldest non-commercial radio station, 88.9 WERS. My first article, an interview with neo-soul band the Love Experiment, has just been posted.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I wrote about Pavement for a class

We had to write a review of something for the class, so I naturally jumped on the opportunity to write about a concert. I had to follow a very specific format, so it's not exactly what I would have written given complete freedom, but I thought I'd share it regardless.

Pavement @ the Agganis Arena 9/18

Pavement emerged from Stockton, California in 1989 among a plethora of other disaffected Gen-X bands. As their grungier contemporaries were yelling, making statements, and acting generally angsty, Pavement, however, simply opted to not care. From the sloppy, fuzzed-out guitar work to Stephen Malkmus’s monotone talk-singing, everything about the band suggested utter apathy. This indifference towards the world continued throughout their career, evidenced events like their walk-off during a 1995 Lollapalooza performance and Malkmus’s refusal to sing at Coachella 1999. But, as the band proved with a recent performance at Boston’s Agganis Arena, with their recent reunion has come a new attitude: the guys clearly give a damn this time around.

And they don’t just care about themselves: the effort they put into the set suggests a genuine concern for the fans. People are quick to accuse reuniting bands of only getting back together for easy money, but Pavement’s intention seems to be geared toward pleasing as many of their followers as possible. While fellow reuniters Pixies have toured essentially the same hour and fifteen minute set every night for the last year, Pavement creates a unique two hour set list for each performance, switching deep cuts in and out while rotating the positions of their catalogue’s cornerstones. Though leaning heavily on their 1991 debut Slanted and Enchanted, the Boston set spanned their career. Whether it was the quasi-sentimental alt-rock ballad “Here” or the falsetto strut of “Brinx Job,” Pavement offered something for fans of each of the band’s stylistic phases. Die-hard devotees appreciated obscure non-album tracks like the sloppy guitar jam “Heckler Spray” from Pavement’s early EP Perfect Sound Forever, while casual concertgoers still got to hear classics like “Cut Your Hair.” The Agganis Arena is a decently large venue, but Pavement made sure no one left the stadium without hearing a bunch of songs they wanted.Shockingly enough, it wasn’t just the audience having a good time.

Among the pleasant surprises of the night, one is more or less universally agreed upon—Stephen Malkmus is very obviously having a blast. He dances, he stomps, he jams, he smiles. Notorious for refusing to allow co-songwriter Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg to contribute any songs to the band’s last album, Malkmus oddly enough ends up shaking his ass to the Kannberg-led “Kennel District” more than any other tune. Even when he shoots a glance at the sound guy and mimes hanging himself (a reference to the venue’s frustratingly poor acoustics), the laugh that follows indicates it’s in good humor. The gesture even comes across as charming.

And despite attempts to divert attention from himself (he’s positioned far to stage right; percussionist Bob Nastanovich handles the crowd-banter duties), Steve can’t help but come off as the clear leader. Perhaps it’s the irresistible ease with which he operates on stage: when he goofs around while jamming, when he plays with the lyrics, any time he strays from what the audience expects, Malkmus adds a delightful spontaneity to the performance.

Despite the thrill, the joy, and the enthusiastic reception, Pavement has reported that this tour is to be a one-off affair. No new albums or future tours have been scheduled. In a post on their record label’s blog, a writer explicitly states, “Please be advised this tour is not a prelude to additional jaunts and/or a permanent reunion.” Perhaps the members worry that the bad feelings will arise again if they spend too much time together. Perhaps they really prefer their solo endeavors. Or perhaps it’s the fact that bands that peaked long ago tend to fade into irrelevance rather than reclaim any former glory. A new batch of Pavement albums could actually cheapen the sanctity of their original, acclaimed run. And if they were to not put out new music, at what point would they cease to be triumphant homecomers and turn into old men milking their past success? One victory lap might be enough.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I can already tell "Dance Yrself Clean" is going to be my summer jam of 2010

And it should be yours too. LCD Soundsystem's new album opener is off the wall. You can probably find it on the internet without my help.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Concert Review: The Walkmen

The Walkmen w/ Atlas and My Friends
University of Delaware, 19 March 2010

Photo stolen from, by Joe del Tufo.

All right, so the Walkmen. For some reason this show didn't really move me towards the keyboard like the last two concerts did, but I'm going for it anyway. Hopefully it won't seem too forced.

The openers were both local bands of guys who were all pals with each other. First one (My Friends) had a black guy who at first just played extra percussion, but eventually started jumping up and down and doing some pretty wild dancing. The next band (Atlas) had better tunes but no one did any crazy leaping and bounding. Fair trade off, I suppose. You can't expect to get everything from one local band, you know? The drummer for Atlas reminded me of a drummer I played with in a jazz band one year. It actually was quite possible that it was the same guy, but I forgot to ask him about it.

So then the Walkmen came on stage and my first thought was a worry that they would be disappointed about the small crowd size. I mean, they're not a huge group by any means, but I'm pretty confident their shows usually draw more than the one hundred or so people who showed up here. Granted, this is just some college town in Delaware and not a big city. And I wasn't really worried that they would be upset about the crowd size, just that playing to so few people would cause them to phone it in and not give their all.

But then I took a minute to think logically and realized something important. How the hell would I know if they were giving 100% or not? I've never seen them before and I don't have any idea if I'll see them again. The only way I'll ever learn if they weren't putting effort into the show is if I see them again and they do a lot better. In which case, I'll probably be too busy enjoying the performance to care that on March 19th, 2010 they could have put on a better show. So I might as well just take what they give me and assume the best.

The Walkmen's live show reminds me of the National's. Like the National's Matt Berninger, Walkmen vocalist Hamilton Leithauser is not the most active frontman, but both singers have this deep intensity about them when they sing; they're not about to jump around, but the energy forces its way through in other ways. I imagine every Walkmen live review ever mentions Leithauser's neck vein, but with good reason--that thing bulges like mad. And when you see it throbbing, you know damn well he puts something real and passionate into every performance. Hell, the vocal demands in the group's tunes don't allow him to not strain himself every show.

Also like the National: the Walkmen have a great drummer who is just a joy to watch go about his business. Extraordinarily tight and controlled, but not rigid. And, to be honest, the fact that the guy's really really tiny makes it all the more delightful.

I couldn't have asked for a better set list. The hour and twenty minute show focused mainly on 2008's excellent You & Me, with several favorites included from their 2004 breakthrough Bows & Arrows, like the frequently-requested-via-shouting "The Rat" and the somewhat surprising sing-a-long "New Year's Eve." Plus, it's always a joy when some of the night's highlights are brand new songs; I'm really looking forward to the next record.

Who knows, maybe they were just fulfilling an obligation; perhaps the group routinely puts on far better shows. But when I get a perfect set list, a singer who really connects, and a show that I didn't have to drive into Philly for, I'm not even coming close to complaining.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Concert Review: Mos Def and De La Soul

Thursday, February 18th Mos Def, De La Soul, Pete Rock, and Hezekiah, with special guest Slick Rick at the Trocadero Theatre.

In introducing the group's 1991 hit "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'", De La Soul's Posdnuos expressed his regret that the show had fallen on a Thursday night rather than a Friday: when midnight rolls around on a Friday night, it becomes (as the song says) our "one whole day to play", but when the clock hits twelve on a Thursday night, it'll be just another weekday. And while Posdnuos said this only as a lighthearted way to lead into the song, by the end of the night the crowd quite clearly shared the sentiment. When Thursday changed to Friday, headliner Mos Def had only just taken the stage, and he wasn't providing the special something necessary to keep the audience captivated.

But it didn't have to be that way. Mos Def is by no means a bad performer, De La absolutely killed, and Slick Rick did what he needed to do (be Slick Rick; spit a few lines). In order, then, to avoid suggesting these talented performers were the major cause of the lost enthusiasm, I'll begin by imposing a large deal of the blame on DJ/producer Pete Rock.

At the risk of sounding like an impatient, ADD-ridden Generation Y-er that doesn't understand real hip hop, I must say that I found no reason for Pete Rock's DJ set to go on for an hour and ten minutes. Despite decent transitions, his collage of snippets from hip hop classics--barely, if at all, remixed and frequently interrupted by commands to yell "Go Pete Rock, go Pete Rock, go"--can only keep one interested for so long. Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't help but feel like if his performance had been half the time, concertgoers would not have been quite so spiritless by the time Def took the stage.

Now we come to Hezekiah, our host for the evening. A cheerful and sprightly rapper, Hezekiah had started the night off on a good note with an upbeat set featuring live horns (provided by members of the troupe "Me So Horn-y"). Each time Hezekiah would show up to fill time between sets, however, he had less to offer, and his appearances eventually deteriorated into an awkward series of plugs for upcoming events and random a capella verses from him and his sister. In the minutes leading up to Mos Def's set, the audiences hit their breaking point and began to boo Hezekiah. I felt bad for the guy and I certainly don't condone or forgive the crowd's lack of tact, but I could understand their restlessness.

All right, now that I've established some context concerning the vibes that preceded Mos's entrance, I feel more comfortable explaining why exactly he didn't cut it. Mos Def is a relatively laid-back performer. While his tunes are often energetic, he is a cool, collected fellow whose flow and demeanor lack the aggression and bite of many rappers. Not an inherently negative style--I often find it preferable--but after Pete Rock's 70-minute relay of songs I can listen to at home and bad vibes surrounding Hezekiah, we wanted to be wowed. Def's show, though, is consistently enjoyable but rarely transcendent.

Even when he stepped into new territory by simultaneously playing drums and rapping on "Quiet Dog Bite Hard", it still felt too subdued. The routine was more impressive than entertaining, kind of like that movie Adaptation.

When he broke into "Auditorium" Mos Def actually managed to generate a healthy response from the crowd, but he can't take the credit--on album, the song features a guest appearance from Slick Rick; the fans all knew it was only a matter of minutes before the guest of honor finally took the stage.

Def glides through his part of the song amidst the flourishing cheers and intermittent hollers of "SLICK RICK!", clearly energized by the renewed vivacity. The second chorus closes and a heavily gold-adorned Slick Rick saunters onstage, greeted warmly with applause from a crowd ready for his sticky eerie-serene flow.

But when he raises the mic to his mouth, it squeals and wails and no vocals are heard. The Ruler continues to rap inaudibly for a few seconds before a roadie dashes over with a substitute mic. And thus, the most anticipated moment of the night was dulled by technical problems. The set recovered quickly as Ricky then does a short medley of his hits, but it's hard to deny the false start to what was destined to be the evening's climax.

Fortunately, the night was not a loss. I've saved the best for last, and the organizers of the event should have as well: the experience would have been greatly enhanced if De La Soul's energetic, playful, engaging, and all around fantastic set had closed the evening. De La dished out everything the audience would have needed to recharge them as the night grew later, everything that Mos Def just couldn't quite provide.

The 45 minute (yes, they gave the best act of the night 25 fewer minutes than Pete Rock's iPod shuffle of hip hop classics) show was a forceful blend of classics like "Me, Myself, and I" and "Potholes in My Lawn" with more recent favorites like 2000's "Ooh." Posdnuos charges through his verses with a joy and vigor seen nowhere else throughout the night, while fellow emcees Trugoy and Maseo alternate in the role of a solid second fiddle. The group's back-and-forth banter is delightful, including a bit in which each Pos and Trug attempts to prove to the other that one side of the crowd is superior. The routine is clearly rehearsed but so endearing that the crowd eats it up, cheering wildly to pledge their allegiance to either Pos or Trug and whichever side of the arbitrary line they happen to be standing.

And maybe part of what makes it so endearing is the fact that these guys have been doing this for more than 20 years with little mainstream success and can still completely bring it. They haven't gone out with a bang; they haven't slowly faded into obscurity. Rather, they've continued to put out solid records and, despite their age, their live show transcends every expectation. The D.A.I.S.Y. age may be long over, but the trio carries on the attitudes and vivacity they first let flow on their 1989 debut. And why not? The crowd at the Troc that night certainly needed it, and we could have used more of it.

-Andrew Doerfler

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prove me wrong, Drew: or, O Canada Part II

One week after I posted a bleak prediction regarding the fate of Canada's indie scene, Broken Social Scene bandleader Kevin Drew announced that the collective plans to release a new record on May 4th. According to that website Pitchfork, the album was arranged mainly by a group of six consisting of Drew, Brendan Canning, Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin, Andrew Whiteman (also of Apostle of Hustle), and Sam Goldberg. But that's not quite all--Leslie "Feist" Feist, Metric's Emily Haines, Stars' Amy Milan, Lisa Lobsinger, and many others also contribute to the disc. More details can be found in a delightful interview with Drew can be found here.

I am going to infer from the timing of the new album's announcement that Kevin Drew follows this blog, so I would like to take advantage of his readership to say that I hope my aforementioned prediction turns out to be wrong. 2002's You Forgot It In People is one of my favorite records of the last decade and the self-titled follow up three years later didn't disappoint. And your performance of the latter album's closing track, "It's All Gonna Break", at the 2008 Lollapalooza went unparalleled at that festival. What I'm trying to say is this: even though you haven't recorded anything particularly interesting in the last five years, I should keep faith in you based on a pretty damn solid track record. I would welcome few things more than another album that gives me the same thrill upon first listen as You Forgot It In People.

Your move, BSS. I know you're reading.

PS Also it would be quite nice if you would do a full lineup show at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Bring Band of Horses along too so I don't have to feel so bitter about the show the two of you are doing with Pavement in Toronto.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm in love with a soldier from Baltimore

Most readers probably know that I am a pretty big fan of Animal Collective. They are basically my favorite active band, and if I had ever gotten around to doing that "Bands of the Decade" feature I promised, they surely would have been the first installment. So when I found out that Josh "Deacon/Deakin/Deaken" Dibb, the Animal Collective guitarist who has been "taking a break" from the band for the last two years, would be playing his first ever solo show New Year's Day in Baltimore, I decided to grab a few pals to accompany me to Ravenstown!

My girl friend and my regular friend and I are all in the above photograph. I promise you, none of us is the one who looks like he is shushing Deacon. But I am getting ahead of myself. REWIND TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

Standing outside the venue, we mused about how it would be quite humorous if someone had come to the venue believing that popular electronic musician Daniel Deacon would be playing rather than the similarly named Animal Collective guitarist. It was not an impossibility: both Deacons are from Baltimore, and Daniel was indeed scheduled to play at the very same venue in the coming weeks.

Then, while the first opener (Moss of Aura) was starting up his second song, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a rotund, bearded poncho approaching. But this was no ordinary rotund poncho with a beard... it was Dan Deacon with a beard wearing a poncho! LITTLE HAD WE KNOWN, WE WOULD SEE DANIEL DEACON AT THE VERY SHOW THAT WE HAD JOKED ABOUT SOMEONE MISTAKENLY ATTENDING UNDER THE PRETENSE THAT THEY WOULD SEE DAN DEACON. It turns out our hypothetical misinformed person might have very well seen Daniel Deacon, albeit not as a performer.

Zomes, the next guy, was pretty boring and we did not see any Mob Town celebs during the set. A lose all around.

Now we arrive at the highlight of the evening: Daniel Higgs, shown below.

Mr. Higgs played just two songs. But his 40 minute performance was the most surreal concert experience I have had in a while. To give you a vague idea of what to expect (and to ease you into the heavier stuff): his set up consists only of (a) a mysterious music box that he rhythmically opens and closes, (b) his warbling bray and (c) some bells strapped to his stompin' boots.

Higgs kicked off his set with a 25-minute hookless and rambling tune, the lyrics of which he read from a book--which I must assume was bestowed unto him by the gods of freaking the fuck out of people--that laid at his feet. About halfway through he invited the audience to let out whatever sounds they happened to be feeling at that moment. We were all happy to (and perhaps nervous not to) oblige, immediately creating a cacophony of whoops, screeches, and various other noises that can probably be heard somewhere on Sung Tongs.

What followed, though, easily surpassed any yelping session I have ever been a part of. After concluding "There is a Root" (a title I am granting his opening saga because they are the only words I remember from the tune, and I believe the only four consecutive words he ever repeated throughout its entire 25 minutes), Higgs unleashed a much more direct and, I daresay, accessible song. Though it still ran about 12 minutes, the song had a distinct hook, repeated at least 10 times, which I will bless the reader with the pleasure of seeing:
"Stand atop the Bible until your tears run dry, it's Holy Bible time, Holy Bible time."
The verses, meanwhile, offered suggestions on what activities to undertake with your personal Bible, which included but were not limited to "cherish the Bible", "burn the Bible", and "ignore the Bible." It was probably the most profound religious experience I've had in a good three years.

Oh and Deaks was good too. Not much going on melodically but a lot of cool sounds went down, especially guitarwise. A bit shoegazey, but still pretty Animal Collectivey. And he likes to twirl around when he plays guitar, which was refreshing after the first three fellows sat throughout 100% of their sets.


John Waters sightings: 0
Number of Ravens fans who trashed/stole my car because it has a Steelers-themed spare tire cover: 0
15 minute songs about the Bible: 1
Verdict: I would consider going there Balti-more often :D

PS thanks to whoever chrissy abbott is for all the pictures I stole
PPS thanks to Wikipedia for telling me what some nicknames for Baltimore are

Monday, January 25, 2010

Prediction for the 2010s: O Canada

Canada's indie music scene will fade out almost completely. Boeckner, Owen Pallett, Carey Mercer, Islands, A.C. Newman, and Broken Social Scene (+all related projects) will all become completely irrelevant, releasing albums during the first half of the decade to a consistently lukewarm response. Some of these have already started their freefall. They're not going to bounce back. People have grown tired of this scene, or at least have realized that all the ground has been very, very well covered.

Spencer Krug will continue to put out digital EPs and 7"s under new names and with new projects, all only slightly deviating in style from the last. They will be received warmly until the public loses interest upon noticing that not one of these projects ever develops into a well thought-out, consistent album.

Arcade Fire may be counted as an exception, as their success and acclaim in the 00s transcends anything the previously mentioned acts have achieved. But their fanbase will grow little and subsequent recordings will be released to only modest praise.

Oh, and Dan Bejar will finally fulfill his destiny of becoming a nomadic troubadour. Toss a coin his way if you hear him wailing as he shuffles down your street.