With Draw

In the past few months, I have had the chance to see music from Australia, France, and Canada, in addition to the Texas, New York, and LA-based acts that typically come through. That’s been nice.

Gojira were very polite, which stood in contrast to their precise and pulverizing metal. Their French accents were cute. I don’t know if Courtney Barnett spoke or sang or mumbled or what, but whatever it was I couldn’t understand it but totally loved it (as always). Crystal Castles were Canadian, and I also saw Phantogram. Both were about as antiseptic as expected.

Along with Barnett, the Sound on Sound Fest one-day pass also provided close access to a rock legend (Bob Mould) and a local legend (Explosions in the Sky). The latter was the clear highlight of the fall for live music. These guys’ near-telepathic chemistry and their mastery of dynamics was put over the top by the coolest light show I have ever seen (thanks, weather).

Personally, it has been a crushing few months, but discovering new music and seeing old favorites is a helpful tonic. Listen to some of what I have been listening to, if you d/care.

Open Playlist (Google Play)


Best of 2014: New Artist – Operators

Best Of (3)
I saw Operators twice this year, once at The Star Palace Ballroom supporting Future Islands and the other time at Harlow’s in Sacramento. Both shows were fantastic displays of electronic pop, the first one was attended by roughly 500 people; at the second I counted exactly 20. It certainly wasn’t the band’s fault that hardly anyone came out on a Monday night to a great venue with excellent sound and lighting. Operators have spent the year generating a substantial buzz, choosing to play live before releasing any music and not hesitating to play new material not on EP1, a five-song introduction released this summer.

Dan Boeckner (formerly of Wolf Parade, Divine Fits and Handsome Furs), Macedonian electro artist Devojka and drummer Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks and Divine Fits) weave together hypnotic, groove-oriented songs without the help of pre-recorded tracks or computers.
This allows for a great deal of flexibility, improvisation and connection between band and audience. In a post-show chat, Devojka revealed that drummer Brown only relies on a flashing red light to stay in time and that she operates the midi controller with a global tempo. In a time when electro pop is mostly predictable and often-overblown, Operators are one of the few acts capable of actually jamming like a band from the pages of Kerouac or Ginsberg. It’s the very limits they place on themselves that yield the most captivating results.

Devojka also mentioned that the band enjoys playing shows in places like Sacramento and Fresno, having originated in cities like Columbus, OH; Milpitas, CA; and the Eastern European country of Macedonia that don’t always get the cool-kid shows. Whether playing to packed and deliriously dancing Star Palace or hosting an impromptu meet-and-greet between songs at Harlow’s, Operators seem equally at home, confident in the beauty of simplicity and the transformational power of melodic hooks. “Cold Light,” featured below in two performances, is one of my favorite songs of the year and it won’t see a proper release until next month.

Review: The Gaslight Anthem w/ Against Me! Live at 930 Club

20140910_201938Attending two live shows in three days at the same venue definitely gives you a unique perspective. As I sit down to write this review, I find myself comparing the shows. This would be unfair even if the artists were similar. In this instance, they aren’t, so I am ardently to look at last night’s show in a vacuum.

Last night’s show featured two bands that share relatively similar genres…and not much else. At this point in time, Against Me! has become an elder statesman on the punk circuit. With six albums and over a decade of touring under their belts, they have built up a relatively small but diehard following. Known primarily for combining fast, punchy guitar riffs with pulsing drum beats and lyrics that are overtly political, Against Me! knows what they are good at, and they execute.

But what made last night’s performance so intriguing was the widely publicized subject of lead singer Laura Jane Grace and her gender dysphoria.  Born Tom Gable, Laura Jane Grace announced she would be transitioning to life as a woman in a powerful and extremely poignant article published in Rolling Stone in 2012. This was the second time I had seen Against Me!, but the first since 2012. I’m unashamed to admit that I was curious to see what, if anything, might be different about the band and its lead singer.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out the answer: very little had changed, and a lot had changed. Against Me! was the same in-your-face,  unapologetic whirlwind of punk that I had enjoyed as a younger version of myself, when their songs about subjects such as teenage anarchy, disenchantment with the military industrial complex, or drinking too many Guinness resonated most deeply. With their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the whirlwind is still there, even if the subject matter has changed. With the album title setting the stage, the new Against Me! isn’t shy about attacking head on the issues that Laura Jane Grace has faced in her transition to being a woman – fear, rebellion, hatred, desire for acceptance, and many others. The album is powerful because it’s personal, and that comes through even more live. In many ways, Against Me! is as good and relevant as ever.

The headliner of the night was The Gaslight Anthem, a band that has now released five albums since 2007, the most recent being Get Hurt in early August, 2014. This show was the opening act of a tour for the aforementioned record, a tour that will take them all over North America and Europe.

20140910_214537I don’t secretly like The Gaslight Anthem – they have been one of my favorite bands for over six years. This was my second time seeing them live, while also seeing a solo acoustic show a few years back with lead singer Brian Fallon. But coming into last night, that favoritism had begun to wane. Get Hurt takes Gaslight in a new direction. Gone are the days of uber-catchy, vivid, punk-inspired, heart-broken, modern-day Springsteen tracks. In place are grungier, arena-sized rock anthems that leave a lot to be desired. And the change is just as evident live as it is on the new album. An over-the-top light show attempted to distract from the fact that they played very few songs from their previous four albums. This didn’t feel like a band wanting to proudly unleash new tracks to the world – but rather, a band that was hiding from its past. As if their fans had forgotten where they came from.

Admittedly, the show was entertaining throughout. But what it more readily accomplished was to defend my pre-conceived notions that the band had changed, and in my opinion, not for the better. No single moment better portrayed Gaslight’s attempt at transitioning to serious rock band than their choice for final song of the night – The Who’s “Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland).” This, apparently, was a page ripped directly from their primary inspiration for the new album – Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, it came across as far too contrived, and left a lot to be desired until The Gaslight Anthem (hopefully) goes back to their roots.

Set List

Light Thieves Live at Peeve's

Imagine this.

You find it hard to concentrate in the suburbs. It really isn’t that safe after all, what with murder-suicides taking place just a quarter mile away from your comfortable, ranch-style home.

light thieves 1

In search of clarity, you head downtown to the headier environs of the Fulton Mall. It only takes ten minutes to arrive. You head through the darkness to Peeve’s Public House, former home of Milano, Cafe Corazon and Fresno Brewing Company.


Once inside, the music of Light Thieves greets you, a volcanic blast of math-rock time signatures, dense basslines and vintage synth sounds that jolts you to the core of some semi-subconscious level you didn’t know existed.

Preparing to embark on a west coast tour, Light Thieves had plenty of friends in the crowd Monday night. With a growing reputation as one of the best live bands in California, they did not disappoint. Delivering a fierce, taut and exploratory set, they played a mix of new and old songs to a dedicated audience.

It’s been a Summer of Troubles for most of the world. And maybe indie music won’t help you find answers in the moments when you realize that some of the truths you believe in might actually not be true at all. But it’s a community experience, looking for signs of progress and health, when you learn new acronyms like ISIS and IKR but don’t understand why people aren’t afraid of the police acting like soldiers.

Sometimes Light Thieves play a song and you aren’t sure if it’s funny or sad. Which is perfect when equilibrium is elusive and holes are opening in the fabric of space and time. Maybe it’s an inside joke.

light thieves 3

Ryan Adams Live at 930 Club

ryan adams at 930 3In case Ryan Adams’ new self-titled album wasn’t enough to demonstrate that he has emerged from an always-tenuous retirement as both a new person and a new musician, last night’s album release show at the 930 Club in Washington, D.C. provided more evidence.

Adams has always been beloved by both fans and critics for his achingly personal song writing. And that much has not changed. He has also gone to often-great lengths to appear as both a poet and tortured soul – a kind of 21st century Dylan/Morrissey hybrid. But that seems to be where the shift is taking place.

One listen to Ryan Adams and this much is clear – his ability to write songs that deeply relate to his listeners is still there. But what takes multiple listens – and in my case, a live performance – to understand is how his inspiration for those songs seems to have shifted. Ryan Adams is no longer the reckless and carefree 20 year old from his Whiskeytown days of the 90’s. He is no longer the wannabe rock star of the early 2000s (from Heartbreaker through Love is Hell). And he is no longer the radio-friendly pop star of the late 2000s (as heard on Easy Tiger and Ashes & Fire).

Ryan Adams is who he is at this point in his career – an enormously accomplished musician who seems to have little care for what people think of him. He’s writing what he wants to write, and nothing else. Both on Adams’ new album, and his live performance, there is a comfort level with himself that I had previously not heard or seen. And this isn’t a bad thing in the slightest.

It was this comfort level that ultimately stood out last night above anything else. Jokes abounded, including quips about a new band called Dingo Infestation, a story about a taking mushrooms and visiting a cemetery which somehow related back to the 930 Club logo, and endless new merch concepts such as a shirt with a sad face wearing a cowboy hat that would accompany his “depressing songs.” This was in stark contrast to the last time I saw Adams play with his one-time band The Cardinals, a show during which he might have engaged with the audience for a grand total of five seconds. Last night’s show should have been billed as two acts – Ryan Adams the comedian performing with Ryan Adams the singer-songwriter.

His newfound comfort was also evident in which songs he played and the way he played them. At least half a dozen songs spanned more than 10 minutes and included (at least what came across as) a variety of improvised break downs and guitar solos. Multiple songs were started and stopped because he wanted to play it at a different tempo. And very few, if any, of his radio-friendly “hits” were included in the set list.

At the end of the night, someone with specific expectations could have been disappointed with the overall performance. Fortunately, I was anything but. The show was lively, entertaining, engaging, suspenseful, funny, and thought provoking. So while Ryan Adams may not be the Ryan Adams of old, I like the new one just as well.

Set List


A Throwback Worth Throwing Back For

Brand New at FillmoreI have been on a bit of a losing streak recently when it comes to seeing bands from my youth some 10 years past their prime. While most of these shows – but not all – had been of the anniversary/reunion-type, they did all have another thing in common – they were extremely disappointing.

– The Ataris’ “So Long Astoria” 10 year anniversary tour earlier this year, of which Ryan posted about in March (I saw them in DC, and my review would not have been as kind as Ryan’s)

– Thursday’s “Full Collapse” 10 year anniversary tour back in 2010

– Jealous Sound’s “Kill Them With Kindness” 10 year anniversary tour in 2013

So much so that I had begun to question a couple things. Yes, whether they were worth my time and money. But more importantly, whether they were harming the memories from my youth of seeing the same bands. There is something unsettling about seeing someone on their last leg trying for one last gasp, whether it be a musician, athlete, politician, etc.

So I was necessarily skeptical about seeing my all-time favorite band – Brand New – at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD. Would this just be a repeat – a band from my youth trying their best to stay relevant, despite evidence to the contrary?

No, this was not an anniversary show. But Brand New has been one of the most enigmatic bands of the last decade and a half – touring when/where they want, going silent for long stretches of time and reappearing without any new material, refusing to give interviews, being detached and cold with audiences and fans. So it was anybody’s guess what to expect.

They did not disappoint. This was the 5th time that I had seen Brand New live, and their performance end up trailing only a 2003 show at the House of Blue Sunset Strip in Hollywood, CA.

Touring without new material is often a hit for audiences – you are assured to hear songs from whatever your favorite album may be, rather than half the setlist being compiled of tracks nobody knows. That was the case here. Brand New played a well-rounded mix from 3 of their 4 studio albums, with debut album “Your Favorite Weapon” being the odd man out.

See below for a setlist.

The Color Morale, Born of Osiris at Outland Ballroom

On a whim, the other night, I wandered over to a metalcore/deathcore show at Spingfield, MO’s fine live venue The Outland Ballroom.

I came in on the tail end of The Color Morale’s set, the band’s final set before embarking on Warped 2014. Exuding a kind of earnest passion and optimism not often seen/heard in metal, I really enjoyed the three songs I heard.



The first thing I noticed upon arrival was someone bleeding from a head wound which more or less sums up the sound of Born of Osiris who followed TCM with a brutal, pummeling set which delighted the assembled throng of fans who came to get crazy. Not my normal scene but I had a blast. My only question is, does every current metal band have to use so many backing tracks? (including an entire set with a distinctly separate rhythm guitar)