Wednesday, October 31, 2007
For Once In My Life, Let Me Get What I Want
We take back everything we said about weepy Tori Amos fans last week, because tonight it's our turn to shed a tear or ten as our beloved Moz swoops into town on yet another round of his triumphant, ongoing greatest hits tour. Word has it that it may be his last for a while, if not ever, which is, of course, a tragedy we will probably never get over for the rest of our miserable lives. His setlists of late have been heavy with Smiths classics like "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" and "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before." But Morrissey, if you're reading this, and you aren't, will you please, please, please play "Sister I'm a Poet"? 7: 30p.m. Tickets $39.50-$65. Orpheum Theater, One Hamilton Place. 617-931-2000. ticketmaster.com
Under the Boards
No offense, everyone everywhere, but this record just isn't that bad. New Jersey mall punkers Saves the Day stretch out for 13 jams here that actually stray from the note for note emo pop facsimile. Although singer Chris Conley still whines like a pussy, so that should give you indie blog heroes some solace when constructing your scene points spreadsheet.
Originally published in the Weekly Dig.
Another brutal collection of burners and (sort of) sexy grooves from the active rock radio heroes displays the requisite riff-chugging and double bass drum grooves. Standout track "Critical Acclaim" is an anti-war screed that rips with a righteous indignation and finds singer M. Shadows swinging between a (gasp!) sensitive croon and his balls-in-the-meat-grinder throat bombs. On "Almost Easy" we find out just how hard dude's heart-got-did-wrong in a solo-tastic sort-of pop song. Sounds good and everything, but unforch now we've gotten a peek inside the greasy domes of every American teenage dishwasher for the next sixth months. Not pretty.
Originally published in the Weekly Dig.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
What's more fascinating than other people's deepest secrets? When you combine these compelling revelations with handmade postcard works of art and turn it into a community art project. Frank Warren's done just that, and his book A Lifetime of Secrets collects some of the more memorable ones. To see examples like "I am the reason my father killed himself" go to postsecret.blogspot.com. Powerful stuff. Warren makes an appearance tonight. 6p.m. Free. Brattle Theater, 40
Brattle St., Cambridge. 617-661-1515. brattle film.org
Monday, October 29, 2007
You know how in the future they’ve got those software capsules you can inject into your brain and all of a sudden you know everything about kung fu or how to drive a helicopter? Well, consider the self-titled U.S. debut from New Zealand’s Shocking Pinks an early forerunner of that technology. But instead of learning something useful, like how to fight zombies or whatever, you’re downloading a compact history of hipster indie rock. The disjointed nature of the record -- 17 tracks, many under a minute long -- enable mastermind Nick Harte to try on, and discard just as quickly, any number of recent history’s most memorable musical aesthetic costumes. And so the My Bloody Valentine style feedback atmospherics of song sketches like “Wake Up” give way to the lo-fi New Order bass hooks of “This Aching Deal” and on to the forlorn wordsmith-pop of Belle and Sebastian on “How Am I Not Myself?” and the dreamy fuzz rock of Jesus and Mary Chain on “Second Hand Girl.” And that’s just on the first few songs alone. Throughout Harte infuses much of the record with the chopped up high hat propulsion of DFA style dance floor abandon that makes studying your history a lot of fun.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Make Sure They See My Face
The increasing complexity of postmodern, pop-culture stitch-up jobs in rock music over the past decade or so has provided for some truly bizarre results. It's almost to the point where hearing an Ethiopian r&b crooner squawk and front like a lover boy David Byrne over a "Sexyback" beat cut up by glittery disco guitars barely raises an eyebrow. Almost. But on "Loose Wires / Blink Radio," and throughout much of this record's first half, there's a jarring sense of experimental abandon that imbues even the more straightforward songs with an unexpected, off-kilter ebullience. Credit producer Chad Hugo for much of that. (His Neptunes partner in crime Pharrell helms two tracks as well). Later on the album switches gears abruptly, and songs like "Sun Red Sky Blue" and "Baptized in Blacklight" allow Kenna to ratchet up the drama with breast beating performances worthy of obvious influence Bono, but they're propelled by programmed beats that spoil the mood. The effect of juxtaposing the heartfelt rock alongside experimental and playful pop is jarring, album-wise. This isn't quite sensitive arena balladry, and it's not quite a disco party, and that's emblematic of both this album's biggest problem and its greatest strength.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
It's pretty safe to say that of all the fake reality TV stars we've churned out of the pop culture meat grinder in the past few years - crimes for which we can only pray for forgiveness - the only one that gets a pass is Kelly Clarkson. Who cares if she's lost a step or two after some silly record company imbroglio, or that her new record barely exists? Her songs "Since U Been Gone" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes" are the blueprint for teaching impetuous teenagers everywhere to rock out safely, hand in hand, with their moms. And what's more beautiful than that? 7:30 p.m. Tickets $39.50. Orpheum Theater, 1 Hamilton Place. 617-931-2000. ticketmaster.com
Belly up to the been stein
Ever find yourself saying "I'd like to go out and drink beer and eat German food tonight with people in my age demographic, but I just can't figure out how to make it happen?" We know we have. The folks at the Lunch Club are reading our minds, because tonight they're sponsoring a 20s and 30s Happy Hour at The Pour House. Oh, and it happens to be Oktoberfest. So that means not only will you have the opportunity to meet like-minded people in a social setting, you'll also be able to bond over your love of strudel and German hot dogs. 6 p.m. Tickets $5-10. The Pour House, 907 Boylston St. 617-236-1767. thelunchclub .com
Name that sound
We happen to like it when bands take their names from the songs of other, more famous bands. Works great for the Google results. What's weirder, though, if the band sounds just like the one they're stealing from, or nothing like it? Just not sure. Portland's Stars of Track and Field, whose name begs a Belle and Sebastian comparison, actually sound a lot more like big, arena-ready Brit rock, and, strangely, a bit like Pink Floyd. Weird, but that works for us, too. 9 p.m. Tickets $8. TT the Bear's, 10 Brookline St., Cambridge. 617-492-2327. ttthebears .com
Everyone has an opinion on global warming - even if a lot of people seem to simply dismiss it out of a blind Al Gore hatred - but how much do you actually know about it? If you're like us, not much. Join Kerry Emanuel, a professor of tropical meteorology and climate at MIT, tonight for a lecture as part of the Bring on the Heat: Climate Change Lecture Series. 7:15 p.m. Free. Collins Cinema at Wellesley College, 106 Central St., Wellesley. 781-283-2028. wellesley.edu
The thing about opera is . . . well, we don't know what the thing about opera is, because we usually have no idea what's going on. Perhaps that'll change after a visit to this lecture. Boston Lyric Opera's Tuesday Night at the Opera series takes fans behind the scenes of the season's shows. Tonight Liz Perlman of Costume Works will talk about her costumes for "La Bohème" (above, her work in a previous production). 7 p.m. Free. Rabb Auditorium at Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St. 617-536-5400. bpl.org
Originally published in the Boston Globe
Saturday, October 20, 2007
I live a fairly humble existence. I drive a used car, and I don't really have any pricey electronic toys to speak of (this laptop I'm writing on now spits out smoke and dust when I sign on). It's safe to say I enjoy very few extravagances in my life. Save one: I have my shirts dry cleaned and pressed every week. That may not seem like much, but at $2 a pop, five or six shirts a week, it starts to add up. Just winging it on the math here, but that's something like $50,000 a year. Is it worth it? You betcha! I'd pay double. Ironing is backbreaking labor, and you need a degree in physics just to figure out how to get the shirt to sit right on the board. So how come I feel like I'm fronting like the King of England every time I drop off my sweaty, crinkled, smoked-out shirts for some other poor sap to clean? Is it some sort of insidious, late onset form of liberal guilt? No. Maybe. Actually, yes, that's exactly what it is. There's a disconnect between my idealized version of myself as a man of the people (although maybe that hammer and sickle tattoo wasn't well thought out) and sending my dirty business down to the servants' quarters. Although, in true Cambridge liberal fashion, I'm not going to do anything to change it . . . just complain about it for a while so people know I mean well.
Originally published in the Boston Globe.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Life, you've probably figured out by now, is a series of Big Lies and Gradual Crushing Disappointments of Discovery. It starts out with the whole Santa Clause/Tooth Fairy thing, then progresses on to the Absence of Any Truly Trustworthy Authority bombshell, the You Can Be Whatever You Want if You Try Hard Enough fiction, and then the Soul Mate fallacy. I've always dealt with each blow with a stiff upper lip, because what choice do we have? But I've just heard something that is going change my life for the worse forever: Apparently olive oil, perhaps the most essential ingredient in my eating habits, is 100% fat! What!? How did I not know this until now? I feel like the rug has been pulled out from beneath me. Up is down. Black is white. The one true pleasure I have left, however misguided I've been, is being taken away from me. Butter on bread? No thanks, I'll just dip giant loaves of starch into this little warm pool of goodness. I thought I was doing myself a favor. They say it's "good fat" though. But that's something like "good cancer" isn't it? So now I have a choice to make: soldier bravely on, or cut and run. Of course sometimes clinging to a lie no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary is the only way we can get ourselves out of bed every day. I guess I'll pretend I didn't hear anything. Pass the oil.
Originally published in the Boston Globe.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Plague of mirth grips Puritan stronghold yet again
Scrape the rust off your atrophied laughing holes, Bostonians, because the biggest comedy event of the year is about to land in your backyard. And this time, it has nothing to do with gorilla assault trials.
Now in its eighth year, the Boston Comedy Festival (or, if you want to get technical, the "Boston International Comedy and Movie Festival") is bigger than ever. Throughout the week, in venues throughout the city, comedians from all over will descend upon our fair burgh and conspire to make you soil your knickers with improv, sketches, films, showcase acts and a 94-person-strong comedy competition with over $10,000 in prizes.
For performers slaving away in underground comedy sweatshops, the festival can be an important step on the way to the big(ish) time. Cambridge-based funnyman Shane Mauss, who performed in last year's festival and will compete again this year, has already reaped many of the benefits. "It's kind of a big deal around here in the comedy community," he explains. "I went to the festival as a spectator the two years before last. I submitted the year before last and didn't get accepted." But in 2006, that changed, and he went on to become a finalist in the competition.
"A comic in the contest saw me and recommended me to the people that book the HBO US Comedy Festival in Aspen," Mauss reports. One thing led to another, and he received an award for Best Stand Up Comic at Aspen. And now he sleeps on a bed of $100 bills and pisses champagne. (More or less.)
Norwood's Dan Boulger is currently enjoying a national profile after a similar experience. "The first year I applied for it, I didn't get in because I had a really bad tape, and, for the most part, bad jokes," he admits. "The next year, I won it."
The festival's ability to turn nobodies into headliners, suggests Tom Gribbin, a veteran comedy promoter and club owner who is set to release the 2-CD set 10,000 Laughs: Best of The Boston Comedy Festival on Koch Records, is one of the things that makes it "different than the other great comedy festivals."
"I liken it to the US Open of comedy," Gibbin says. "It's open to all comedians around the country. It is not dominated by the industry, nor are the contestants chosen by industry people interested in fulfilling their own agendas. Each comic chosen was selected totally on their merits. That's how an up-and-coming comedian like Dan Boulger, then just 20 years old, could ultimately challenge and win over very funny veteran comedians."
The CD, made up of the "best of the best" of the past few years, Gribbin says, "captures the varying and sometimes wholly different material, deliveries, outlooks on life, etc., offered by the differing personalities of the comics themselves." Which is about as succinct an explanation there is for the appeal of attending this year's festival in the first place. Boston comedian Micah Sherman says it translates into a tangible energy in the air. "I'm especially fond of the buzz that floats through Boston during the week of the festival," he explains. "It's very electric. Like something big is about to happen at any moment." Then again, he says, "maybe it's the fall air that makes me feel that way. Or the whiskey."
It could be the strangely contradictory spirit of clowns at war he senses. Sherman isn't competing this year (he'll perform Thursday night at the "Alternative" show at the Comedy Vault), but he sees the upside of it. "Is competition natural? Yes it is. Is it the best recipe for comedy? Probably not. But doing well in the competition does seem to provide one with more opportunities to perform in situations where the ingredients are better suited for comedy: Think packed performance halls versus the empty bars comedians start out in."
Mauss, who appeared on Conan O'Brien twice since last year, approaches things a bit more matter-of-factly. "Typically, you try to tighten all of your jokes and just do the very best parts of your act that you can squeeze into five minutes," he says. "There is pressure on the comics trying to do their best to win, but there are also industry people in the audience (like Comedy Central people) that are watching and could possibly help your career. It's not really that natural of a thing to compete in comedy. It's not as pure as the art form should be. You can't really judge comedy on a point system, which is what they attempt to do. But it is a lot of fun for people, and you get to do a lot of networking."
Boulger, who's appeared on Comedy Central since his big finish at last year's festival, says those types of opportunities that come out of the festival can change an entire outlook on a career. "I basically went from a glorified open-miker to being overrated," he says. "It's been great."
Originally published in the Weekly Dig.
Ten years, mate
"I was a spectator long before I got involved with it," says promoter Michael Marotta of The Pill, the long-running indie dance night set to celebrate its 10th anniversary this week. "Around 2000, I used to take too many E's and dance to Pulp and Suede, and there was never anywhere else I wanted to be. It was in the old Upstairs Lounge in North Station, and everyone was underage, it seemed. It held about 120 people, which was great. Only the right people were there."
"This was before mass internet promotion, so it had a great word-of-mouth vibe. There were no ads in the paper, no websites, nothing. Just Ken [Powers] and Jen [Sullivan] DJing Brit-pop and '60s every Friday, and it took off from there, and a subculture was formed."
It was three years earlier that Powers got things rolling. There weren't many mod or Brit-pop nights to go to at the time, the DJ remembers. But an extremely dedicated following developed quickly. "The people who came took it seriously. Plenty of pretentious people, boys in tight-fitting suits and girls in fancy skirts with bobbed haircuts. It was wonderful to see," Powers says. "They danced their legs to the knees that [first] night, so I felt as if Jennifer and I were on to something and we had done our job." He probably didn't realize at the time it was a job he'd still have a decade later.
Over time, the night has bounced around between a few different locations, but it's now entrenched firmly at Great Scott in Allston. GS booker Carl Lavin says his only regret is that he missed out on the night's first two years. "Without a trace of hyperbole I can say that The Pill changed the direction of my life, and I'll always be beholden and grateful to the night and the people involved because of it."
But this was just a bunch of kids dancing to rock songs? What's the big deal? "The Upstairs Lounge was a destination," explains Lavin. "It was gritty and it felt like a secret clubhouse." Powers concurs: "The Upstairs Lounge was by far the one that brings the most nostalgia to me. Now and again, I'll meet someone who says they started going to The Pill when it was there. It was a dodgy location in North Station. Not dangerous, except for when meatheads from the Harp would pick fights with skinny mod kids. The vibe inside was very much a speakeasy. You had to be knowledgeable about the music. I could play B-sides of certain bands, and it would pack the floor. Long before the internet made it easy to get music for free, these kids were buying import CD singles at $10 a pop then. It was lovely."
He's right. And I know, because I was one of those kids standing in the "queue" in my "trainers" and tight "trousers," getting myself psyched up to dance to the Stone Roses again and again while smoking an artfully dangled "fag." There was indeed a certain insiders' mentality to the Pill, even though it was open to anyone who simply wanted to drink beer, dance and sweat with a hundred or so other Anglophiles (which, when I put it that way, sounds a little scary). Still, the appeal was -- and remains -- evident.
"Ultimately, there are always going to be people who like to dance to songs that have guitars," says Lavin. "I think the fact that it's never become campy or shifted its focus based on trends and stayed true to what it's always been has kept it endearingly enduring for a lot of people. It's certainly a niche, and it's not for everybody. But the people who like it love it, and that's what's most important, and I think everyone involved over the years has understood that."
"In the beginning, The Pill was where you went to hear UK indie and Brit-pop," explains Marotta. "Radio in 1997 to 2000 was terrible. People forget that Creed and Limp Bizkit dominated music before The Strokes came along and indie culture exploded into the mainstream. Now, while you can hear The Killers on WFNX, you still don't hear electro stuff like BM Linx, The Knife or Justice. Shit, you don't even hear UK shit like The Cribs, The Wombats or even Hard-Fi. So really, people come because of the music. The too-cool-for-school kids always said we were lame, and the uncool kids called us hipsters. The Pill always fell somewhere in between. It survived seven years in the trendiest decade of all time simply because the music is unlike anywhere else. There's no kitsch, no Guns N' Roses, no ironic bullshit. Just a straight-up UK-themed dance party. I think people appreciate that."
And hopefully, they always will. In fact, it's likely that I'll be writing another piece like this from the Dig's office on the moon another 10 years from now. Powers and Marotta aren't so sure they'll be around to celebrate, though. Marotta says he'll be "celebrating the 10th anniversary of [his] death." Where will Powers be? "In a pine box?" He adds, "If people keep coming, I'll keep doing The Pill. It's my pride and joy, so if it lasts for 10 more years, then cue up 'Live Forever' and have a drink with me."
Originally published in the Weekly Dig.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Philly group on their own studio, covers and of course, the ’60sBands have been doing the ‘60s fetish thing since before the ‘60s even ended. So why does it continue to surprise us every time a band like Dr. Dog arrives fresh from the rock ‘n’ roll time machine? The Philadelphia band's acclaimed new record, “We All Belong” is a loopy, psyched out collection of off kilter melodies, kitchen sink instrumentation, and beautiful, yet fractured harmonies whose roots in the distant past make the songs seem all the more timeless. Metro spoke to guitarist and vocalist Scott McMicken on the phone outside the band's recording studio.
You’re in the studio right now. Are you rehearsing or writing new songs?
We're practicing an insane amount of cover songs right now. Over the years we've played a few weddings for friends and families and it's always been a blast. But somehow word got out and some stranger from New York called and asked if we'd play his wedding. We said, "no, we're not a wedding band." But then he threw out some insane amount of money, and since we're all in debt big time… But they actually have good taste, we're learning T Rex and Velvet Underground songs, so it's been a lot of fun.
I interviewed the band in 2005 and you guys were just starting to get noticed. What's changed the most since then?
A lot has changed, but the major thing is our studio situation. We got this big warehouse space in North Philly. It's like in an industrial wasteland. The last record we made was our first with any kind of budget from a record label, so we bought a piano and a new console, and now we have 24-hour studio access. Back then we were getting lots of great opening slots, but we weren't able to headline. Now in the past six to eight months we've been able to go out on our own. Those two things are major avenues of ambition for me. We want to grow as a touring band, so that means being able to play longer sets.
What is it about the sort of ‘60s affectations that remain timeless. Is it because people are still so in love with bands that formulated this sound?
Any kind of great band or artist would strive to achieve timelessness. For us, there are a lot of things that go into that. I do believe there was a higher standard for pop music 30 years ago. There were greater expectations for soul and harmony and melody in a song. I don't think with us it's trying to rehash anything, just to maintain a part of what we listen to. Also, logistically, when you make crackly lo-fi recordings it's going to sound old. That was all we ever had the means to do. We've always been a band that's not ashamed for our output to be lo-fi and homespun. If Dr. Dog took its sensibilities and songs to a big producer in a modern studio, we wouldn't sound ‘60s-like.
Is it the recording process you admire?
You average record from 1972, I think sounds so much better than 2007. We try to please our ears and have the music come back to us in ways that sound appropriate to what we like. Analog has this warmth to it. And we've never had the opportunity to use digital technology. We're way too invested in what we do now. It would take years for us to have to learn how to do that.
Your vocals sound fragile and casual, like they could veer off the tracks any minute, and yet the harmonies all hit. How do you get that off kilter balance with something that has to be so precise?
I guess it comes from playing together for so long. You rely on your band members to keep you in line. We've been singing together for so long we know how to use the differences in our voices. When you're intent on singing harmonies, you have to set aside the true character of your own voice in order to blend.
You toured with Cold War Kids recently. For some reason I associate the two bands aesthetically very easily.
Well that's a supreme compliment. I am so amazed by that band, I don't understand how they do what they do. I wouldn't have put us in the same category, but I'm glad you do. Those guys are like professors or fine artists, so precise, and they do things with such confidence.
So what do people like me usually get wrong when they write about the band?
I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me sometimes. But deep in my heart I know it's stupid. Sometimes I just want to say "You're just angry at the world!" Or "What is the point of this? I just read some dipsh-t tell me a joke about himself and I know nothing about the music!" But we've had mostly good reviews, and the bad ones will come along and say the same thing as the good ones, only they don't like it.
Originally published in the Boston Metro.
Monday, October 1, 2007
‘As Much Light’ is Boston band’s Mission"As Much Light As It Will Take,” the new disc from The Break Mission, opens with a hard-charging piano riff and pleading vocal that reaches for the heights and poignancy of sensitive Brit Rock stadium balladeers like Coldplay or Embrace. But there’s more depth than such comparisons suggest on a record that ranges from bombast to lilting, folkier fair. Jeff Knowlton, the front man for the Boston band, spoke to Metro on the eve of their CD release.
What does it take for a band like yours to cross over? There is certainly a pop rock radio appeal. But where is the, er, break, for The Break Mission? Is it just a matter of right place right time?
As we know, there is no formula. It’s about locating your band’s appeal. Who is going to appreciate this? I know we have songs on this record that could be on mainstream radio, or placed in films. It is always exciting when you finish recording, and you want everyone to hear what you’ve been up to.
Are you heartened by minor victories as a band, or does each step closer to a wider audience simply make you hungry for the next thing?
It is funny, you do savor the small victories as a band, or every little break you get that could lead to something bigger. We’ve been playing for almost seven years, and we’ve had our share of the good, the bad and the ugly. I feel confident in our material and our ability as a band right now, and I welcome anything that could get us heard outside of the club scene.
Be honest, what percentage of your songs are about some girl?
I will be honest, a good amount. My heart’s on my sleeve on this record, but it’s not all personal. I wrote from different perspectives and incorporated more of a social lens.
Where does the emphasis on a song fall for you? What is absolutely essential to get into every one?
The right emotion is essential for a song. This could be in the poignancy of a lyric or a piano part swamped in reverb or the reason the drums are way up in the mix. There is usually one part in a song that I really look forward to getting to when we play live, the part where I always feel the emotion is on display. There has to be a spark that makes that song stand out on stage, or what makes people want to play it on their ride to work?
Originally published in the Boston Metro.
There’s a fine line between the ridiculous and sublime, the precocious and pretentious, and New Zealand’s The Brunettes walk the razor’s edge, veering just close enough to the wrong side of the cutesy twee-pop border to make us nervous. But most of the creative, choc-a-bloc baroque pop compositions on their latest record, “Structure and Cosmetics,” dart between melancholy and subtle, ironic glee. Metro checked in with guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Bree from the road.
Some of your songs, while seemingly wistful, have a playful humorous element to them, like your song, “If You Were an Alien.” Do you try to balance the sadder elements of your music and lyrics with humor?
Yeah, you are right in your assumptions there. Maybe we’re like the musical equivalent of M*A*S*H where the Korean War meets gags and canned laughter. It’s comes easy in the sense that it just feels natural to add that extra element of humor to the song.
Would you hesitate to call some of what you do irony? Like on “Obligatory Road Song.” Obviously there have been a million road songs, but there’s a reason people write so many of them. Are you wary of clichés like that?
I would definitely hesitate to describe ourselves as ironic. Indie Pop irony is an easy cop out and I personally find bands that embrace that direction quite boring. We are genuinely expressing ourselves, and the odd disclaimer or line that we throw in might show awareness of such clichés but they are not intended to make us come off as insincere.
How does your broad instrumental palate contribute to songwriting? There aren’t many bands using marimbas and glockenspiels lately (although it’s catching on). Do those things color the song or drive the creation of it?
The variation helps drive the creative process as well as color the sound. I think the lack of restrictions we place on ourselves when it comes to instrumentation is key for the songwriting process these days. For us the music is written within the recording process, and through a trial and error process using other instruments outside of your comfort zone of guitar or piano. This I think can really help achieve new melodic ideas which is great for a songwriter.
Is there a band playing now or from history you look at and say “now that’s how we want to do things.”
I’m really impressed with fellow kiwi Russell Crowe or “Russ le Roq” as he was known in the 80’s in New Zealand. That guy wrote pop music and was under appreciated in our homeland as well, and he went on to play a gladiator. So, all you casting directors out there, I’m available for screen tests whenever.
Originally published in the Boston Metro.