2014 Week of the Concert

The vast majority of my posts for Pop Heart Etc. consist of concert reviews. This week will be no different – just more of the same in a condensed period of time. Here is my concert-going schedule for the upcoming week. Reviews of each will follow shortly after.

Monday, September 8
Ryan Adams @ 930 Club in Washington, D.C. (This is an album release show for Ryan’s upcoming self-titled album)

Wednesday, September 10
The Gaslight Anthem w/ Against Me! @ 930 Club in Washington, D.C. (Gaslight is touring on their newest album, Get Hurt)

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.

This river’s bigger than I am

Phosphorescent is Matthew Houck, and Matthe Houck is Phosphorescent. Any doubt that was the case was quickly quelled as Houck took the 930 Club stage in an all-white, gold-trimmed cowboy suite – complete with 5 gallon hat and gold glitter boots – in front of 5 band members dressed as inconspicuously as one can be.

There was a certain level of egotism involved in how Houck demanded the spotlight as he strolled onto the stage with Sun, Arise (An Invocation, An Introduction) playing in the background. But any semblance of narcissism vanished as quickly as Houck picked up his guitar and started on track #2 – The Quotidian Beasts.

You see, what makes Phosphorescent’s music great is that it’s melodically transcendent and lyrically relatable. As you listen to various tracks, you can’t help but feel like Houck is talking about you – the lyrics describe a moment or a feeling or a circumstance that everyone knows all too well.

What made this show great was that transcendence and relatability manifesting itself in a live performance. At no time was that more apparent than during the first song following a transition from full band to solo set – Muchacho’s Tune. Muchacho’s Tune is the title track for Phosphorescent’s most recent album (my 2013 Album of the Year) and the first track written following an emotional breakdown that led Houck to a week of seclusion in Mexico that resulted in his best work to-date.

Muchacho’s Tune is simple and soulful. It speaks to redemption – a theme that flows throughout the album but is never more clear than on the title track – but more importantly that redemption doesn’t just occur – it takes time, work, and understanding. “See I was slow to understand/ This river’s bigger than I am/ It’s running faster than I can, though lord I tried.”

Who can’t relate to Muchaco – and who hasn’t sung his Tune.

Rossi's Top 10 Albums of 2013

MuchachoLooking back on this year’s top 10, I think this may be the most eclectic list I have put together to-date. A sign of my musical tastes shifting as I get older? While that could certainly be the case, I pin it on something else – slight disappointment from a few much-anticipated albums this year from bands for whom I have high expectations. Many of these albums can be found in the “Honorable Mention” section below, meaning they weren’t exactly “bad.” Just didn’t meet my high expectations for them.

However, a few new artists (at least new to me) stepped up with some strong albums in 2013. Six of the albums below are from artists that I had not listened to at any great length prior to this year. I believe that’s a result of both factors mentioned above – shifting tastes and my seeking out new music in the face of disappointment from a few of my favorite bands.

Here it is, your 2013 Top 10 Albums, with a Spotify playlist featuring the standout track from each album.

10. Mikal Cronin – MCII

Every time I listen to this album, I feel like I am right back on the left coast. That is not a bad thing.

9. Radical Face – Family Tree: The Branches

Radical Face – AKA Ben Cooper – has become one of my favorite artists. His last album – The Family Tree: The Roots – was #6 on my 2011 list, and remains a part of my regular rotation. This album continues the “Family Tree” series in similarly strong fashion.

8. Local Natives – Hummingbird

I had heard a lot about Local Natives leading up to the release of their debut, Gorilla Manor, in 2010. And while I enjoyed that album, Hummingbird is far stronger throughout. A great work of indie rock.

7. Volcano Choir – Repave

You can sign me up for anything that involves Justin Vernon. This album gets stronger with every listen.

6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Coming from post-hardcore band Million Dead, Frank Turner has carried much of that same angst into his solo career, even though the genre has changed over to more folk/americana. It’s the blending of  past and present that makes this album so fun.

5. Gregory Alan Isakov – The Weatherman

There’s nothing complicated about this album, just genuinely good song-writing from an artist I’ve followed for a while. Its simplicity is what keeps me coming back for more.

4. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

An album that feels familiar the first time you listen to it. A great sound from a band that I believe has even bigger things ahead of it.

3. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

An album that is both upbeat and haunting, sexy and serious at the same time. In any given month of 2013, a different track from this album was on my favorites list.

2. PAPA – Tender Madness

PAPA broke onto the scene through a series of singles that came out over the course of 2012 and 2013, so by the time the album dropped in October of this year, it was much anticipated (at least by me). For a couple months, this was going to be my #1. Tender Madness is chock full of potential singles, dance-a-longs, sing-a-longs, ballads, and tracks that are just fun to listen to. I LOVE this album.

1. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

I came across this album almost by accident – which seems to happen a lot with the advent of Spotify. While Matthew Hauck (the man behind Phosphorescent) had several previous albums before Mucacho, I was unfamiliar with him until this year. While Muchacho stuck out to me almost immediately, my true appreciation for the record came through going back and listening to Hauck’s earlier releases. It was through this process that I began to notice his experimentation with different sounds and vibes, and realized that Muchacho was a culmination of everything that had come before.

The album is great from the first track to the last track, utilizing hints of rock and roll, folk, indie, and just good ‘ol Americana. The album has a depth to it that you feel more and more with each listen. With Hauck apparently writing the majority of the album detached from modern society in a small community in Mexico, it seems he had plenty of time for soul-searching. And this album is the result of that search.

Honorable Mention:

The World is a Beautiful Place & I am Not Afraid to Die – Whenever, If Ever

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still

Jake Bugg – Self-Titled

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob

Flume – Self Titled

Underappreciation, Transformative Style, Old Age, Etc.

Earlier this week, the wife and I attended a show at the 9:30 Club – both of our favorite music venue (at least I think I’m pretty sure it’s hers too). We received the tickets as part of our wedding gift from two good friends. That’s what a good friend who stands up for you at your wedding does – gets you a personal gift that reflects something that made you great friends in the first place – the gift of live music.

Anyways, the show included three acts – Matthew Ryan, Laura Stevenson and the Cans, and the Gaslight Anthem.

Five observations from the show:

  1. Matthew Ryan is incredibly underrated. With a career spanning the better part of two decades and over a dozen albums, Ryan is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation, yet can barely draw 200 people when performing as the opening act for a sold-out show. This is unfortunate.
  2. I am getting too old for a mosh pit. I think my neck and back agree.
  3. Laura Stevenson and the Cans are not terribly appealing. Despite only 2 EPs and 2 LPs, limited-to-no commercial success, and a real lack of originality, they had an unsettling an aura of pretentiousness about them on stage. Not my favorite.
  4. However, fun fact about Laura Stevenson – her grandfather composed ”The Little Drummer Boy” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
  5. The Gaslight Anthem really has something going. They’ve been able to tap into a variety of musical genres and appeal to a wide array of social subcultures – rockabillies, hipsters, punks, jocks, etc. I even saw a few card-carrying members of the AARP in attendance. A style this transformative is a recipe for both critical acclaim and commercial success.

Shayna and The Bulldog

 

This past Saturday I was trying to play Super Dad in the Denver Airport and wound up missing a connection, thus stranding myself and 2-year-old son for an additional 3 hours. Insult to injury, I wound up having to pay $150 for the privilege of taking the later flight. Inwardly, the devastation I felt when I realized my mistake reminded me of an earlier, lonelier, more desperate time when I lost my return bus ticket (as in it fell out of my pocket or?) and found myself alone and penniless in the L.A. Greyhound Station. After much rejection at the hands of unsympathetic customer service specialists, I wound using the last $32 on my nearly maxed-out credit card and limped into home a defeated shell of my former bravado-infused self. Nothing makes you feel more sad inside than making stupid mistakes and finding yourself far from home, where no one cares.

Which brings me to the excellent new ep from Davis-based Shayna and The Bulldog. SATB have recently released a second full length album, the self-titled Shayna and The Bulldog. Here at PopHeartEtc,  we are big fans of the record and will post on it soon. But today I want to dive in to The Youth We Knew, immersed in the sounds of  young life coming apart, shattered and bruised, disillusioned and disheartened. Perfect music for being lost and alone. On these four fantastic songs, available for free download from bandcamp, the band swaps upbeat country folk rock for reverb-laden Americana that’s stiffer, heavier, and darker. The guitar tones, songwriting and musicianship all take a step forward and along with the new album, these left-over (!) songs demonstrate that SATB are one of the best unsigned bands in California, perhaps even in the whole country.

MP3: Shayna and The Bulldog — “Red Dress” download

MP3: Shayna and The Bulldog — “23” download

In the brooding “Red Dress,” out of a sense of deep resignation and even deeper conviction, singer/bassist Joel Daniel sings “I probably always should have known that it would come to this.” Y0u can’t help but agree with him, even if you don’t know the young lady in question. Of course, there’s a big difference between 21 and 31, and the story I began with is at least partially relevant. In the title, The Youth We Knew, SATB allude to it. We move on. We grow. Even break ups and f, er foul ups, don’t last forever.