Saturday, September 24, 2011

John Wesley Harding's Cabinet Of Wonders Came To City Winery - Pictures, Review

Last night we stopped in at City Winery to catch John Wesley Harding's recurring variety show, the Cabinet Of Wonders.  Let us begin by saying, the gig certainly did not disappoint.  Combining a wonderfully eclectic mix of humor, literature, and music, the show had something of an old-timey vibe, and unquestionably paid its dues on the promise of something for everyone.  However, even more significantly, it found all the participants genuinely having fun, which yielded an evening of unparalleled good vibes all around.

The show began with Harding playing some of his own material, primarily new tracks from his forthcoming release.  Backed by the "house band", the English UK, his delivery was rock-solid.  Given Harding's troubadour/singer-songwriter roots, this wasn't exactly a shocker, but it was still nice to see him on top of his game.  Moreover, he and his band provided a solid foundation for the rest of the evening's musical guests, and helped to flesh out their performances far more than might otherwise have been possible.

Harding was followed by famed producer Tony Visconti reading an excerpt from his (much recommended) memoir.  The piece was a mid-70's gem about the meeting of Bowie and Lennon, and Visconti's delivery was impeccable.  Despite the fact that we knew he was a native Brooklynite, it was still a delight to hear his snappy, witty delivery in person.

Dan Zanes then took to the stage armed with Harding's guitar, and proceeded to make good on his singer-songwriter street cred.  His set, which was unequivocally the feelgood moment of the evening, included his own version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and culminated in a group singalong of a tune from Zanes' New Hampshire childhood.

Harding then returned to the stage with Eleanor Friedberger, who delivered the musical highlight of the entire show.  We'll be honest, we hadn't gotten around to listening to Friedberger's solo record that dropped earlier this year, and it is now on our "must have" list.  Not only did Friedberger deliver a stellar, charismatic performance, but the material offered so many more melodic moments than her work with The Fiery Furnaces.  In short, this is a woman on top of her musical game, and you should make every effort to see her in a live setting.

After Friedberger, the evening switched gears to the non-musical section of the cabinet, with a touching reading from Jami Attenberg and a largely self-deprecating comedy set from Todd Barry.  Eugene Mirman, normally a cabinet mainstay, also delivered a video update in absentia that had us looking forward to his appearance at next month's show.

MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden closed out the night's individual performances, delivering an awesome version of his band's "Congratulations", as well as a set composed of covers of The Beach Boys and others.  While his solo sound was ideal for his own material, we were glad to see Harding's band join VanWyngarden on stage and supplement his vocals and guitar.  There was certainly a large crowd in the house for the night's biggest name, and he didn't fail to disappoint, although we have to admit we would have liked to hear one or two more MGMT jams.

The night closed out with a group jam session, including Tony Visconti on bass.  The tune of choice was T-Rex's 1971 classic "Hot Love", which Visconti produced in its original incarnation.  Seeing the entire entourage on stage, it was clear that the Cabinet of Wonders had realized its goal.  Put simply, it brought together a group of artists and musicians and encouraged them to have a damn good time.  In turn, everyone else managed to have a pretty damn good time too.

The Cabinet Of Wonders continues at the City Winery with new lineups in October and November.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wilco and Nick Lowe Played Central Park - Pictures, Review, Setlist

Last night we stopped in at Rumsey Playfield to catch the first of Wilco's two nights in New York.  The band is helping to close out the final days of the year at the Central Park venue, and despite predicted rain, the evening managed to go off without any serious interference from the weather.  Alongside the band was legendary musician and producer Nick Lowe.  The band recently covered Lowe's "I Love My Label" as a B-Side to "I Might", and apparently dug doing so enough that they decided to bring him along for their inaugural tour under dBpm Records.

Nick Lowe was touring without a band, and delivered a set in true singer-songwriter style with his voice and a lone acoustic guitar.  Much akin to his longtime friend and collaborator Elvis Costello, Lowe can still command a crowd even with such simple implements.  Lowe's voice is unquestionably in top form, and hearing him live was a real treat; Roy Orbison came to mind as we listened to the delivery.

If anything, the years have improved Lowe's voice, by giving it an even warmer, more even timbre - sweet without being saccharine.  His set started off with a fair dose of his newer material, which definitely held its own.  However, Lowe managed to truly win over the crowd when he delivered his own "Cruel To Be Kind" and "What's So Funny (About Peace, Love, and Understanding)?", as well as a cover of Elvis Costello's "Alison", at the end of the set.

Wilco took to the stage soon thereafter, and launched in to a 2+ hour set that covered the breadth of their entire catalog.  Before we go any further, we'll start by saying this:  Wilco is one of those bands who, no matter what, in any circumstance, always seem to win us over live.  Even if we're dragging a bit on the way to the show, the opposite is always true on the other side.  Inevitably, we spend the next few weeks revisiting their entire catalog and getting back into the band.

This is why it was such a surprise, that last night, this simply didn't happen.  Did the band put on a bad performance?  Not particularly, but it wasn't great either.  There was something in the band's approach and attitude that simply felt staid; like they were just going through the motions.  It didn't help things that the crowd was a bizarre mix of insanely devoted fans, and arbitrary New Yorkers who didn't even seem aware that they were at a concert.  There were no quiet moments, but there were no truly raucous moments either.  Everything chugged along a steady, neutral pace.

The new material from the band's latest, The Whole Love, was certainly tolerable, but it didn't have any real grip on the crowd.  Moreover, the arrangements of the band's old material were the same ones that we've been hearing for the past few years, with little deviation or inspiration.  The lone standout was a somewhat updated version of "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart", that added some fuzzy tones and textures, no doubt culled from the recent album sessions.

It's difficult to issue such a negative assessment of a Wilco show, because the fact remains that they are a fantastic band, and they do truly deliver, even when they're a little bit off.  Nonetheless, after watching their shows for the past ten years, we also feel pretty confident saying that they've reached something of a creative impasse, and perhaps need to find a way to get "unstuck".  It brings to mind the scene from the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart where Jeff Tweedy opts not to play it safe as the band constructs their live setlist.  Mr. Tweedy, it may be time to take some of your own advice.

Wilco Setlist 09-22-2011
Art Of Almost
I Might
Ashes Of American Flags
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
One Wing
Bull Black Nova
At Least That's What You Said
One Sunday Morning
Shouldn't Be Ashamed
Born Alone
She's A Jar
Handshake Drugs
Standing O
Rising Red Lung
Impossible Germany
Dawned On Me
A Shot In The Arm
Via Chicago
Whole Love
War On War
Jesus, Etc.
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Outtasite Out Of Mind

Wilco and Nick Lowe play Central Park again this evening.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Radiohead - "Lull"

In honor of Radiohead's upcoming 2-night run at the Roseland Ballroom (tickets go on sale Monday), we decided to dig up one of our favorite B-Side moments from the UK fivesome.  "Lull" is a B-Side to the classic "Karma Police", and appeared on the 1st of 2 CD singles for that track.  Culled from the Paranoid Android sessions, the track is pure, classic Radiohead.  Moreover, it is one of the many pieces of contributory evidence to the fact that the band probably could have released twice as many records, and they'd still be just as good.

Opening only with a heavily reverbed guitar and a stark xylophone, the track gradually builds as it adds double tracked vocals and finally bass and drums.  The melody has a droney quality that could only be pulled off by Thom Yorke, and its lyric is a stark apology of an indivdual adrift in their own mind.  Ending almost before it begins, the track fades into an echo-y sample loop, and begs you to hit play once more.

mp3: Radiohead - Lull

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

John Wesley Harding - There's A Starbucks (Where The Starbucks Used To Be)

If you've been to any of the "Cabinet Of Wonders" show, you know that John Wesley Harding has a god-given talent for taking the piss.  That talent is certainly not in short supply with the singer-songwriter's latest track (video above) "There's A Starbucks (Where The Starbucks Used To Be)".

Thematically, the track is something of a modern-day update to the Talking Heads' "Nothing But Flowers", minus the irony.  Instead, it is imbued with a tongue and cheek rant about the travails of modern capitalism, and how it's removing all the lovely bits of the world, with Starbucks being the one thing you can count on.  Yes, you read that correctly.

The lyric is exactly the type of humor that makes Harding's recent shows so delightful, and is in line with what one might expect from Elvis Costello if he were left to navigate a summer camp sing-along.  The instrumentation is a straight-forward affair, leaving us to focus on Harding's voice which, as always, is in top form.  Needless to say, this new songwriting tidbit is enough to get us readily back on the JWH bandwagon and prepare ourselves for the next installment of the Cabinet Of Wonders.

John Wesley Harding's Cabinet Of Wonders Kicks Off a 3-show run this Friday at the City Winery.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Toro y Moi - Freaking Out

Toro Y Moi at Mercury Lounge, from the HAD Archive

HAD faves Toro y Moi are continuing their upward trajectory this fall.  Over the past few months they've been on the road playing progressively bigger venues than ever before.  What's more, the band dropped a new EP last week (cover below) entitled Freaking Out.

The record, which consists of 5 tracks clocking in at just under 20 minutes, largely follows the poppier inclinations of the band's last full length Underneath The Pine.  Amidst boatloads of analog synths, Chaz Bundick delivers the sounds that are getting him so much press (and popularity) as a purveyor of the retro-come-modern fodder for the often-fickle dance scene.

However, the tracks that show the greatest are those that tip their hat to the band's earlier, dreamier work.  The band's first record, Causers Of This, is a semi-ambient groove masterpiece, and while it's certainly fun to hear the band drift to the dance world, they'd be smart not to forget their roots.  Unquestionably, the strongest songs on Freaking Out are "Sweet" and "I Can Get Love", both of which take the band's dancier vibe, and filter it through their earlier, more abstracted work.

There's no question that Toro y Moi is continuing to expand their fanbase and their sound.  What remains to be seen if they can do both at the same time.  Chaz Bundick is obviously something of a musical mastermind, and it would be a shame if his talent got watered down to dance grooves alone.  That being said, it's also undeniable that the new grooves the band has discovered are contributing to their growth and sound.  

Perhaps the best place to discover the answer is in the live environ, where they have always more than held their own.  The band continues to be on a near-constant touring schedule, and no doubt this environment offers a boatload of inspiration and rumination for Bundick to bring back to the studio for his next bout with genius.

Toro y Moi Remaining Fall 2011 Dates
09-20 Bloomington, IN - The Bishop
09-22 Champaign, IL - Pygmalion Music Festival
09-23 Cincinnati, OH - Midpoint Music Festival
09-25 Minneapolis, MN - Triple Rock
09-29 Vancouver, British Columbia - Venue
09-30 Portland, OR - Star Theater
10-03 Los Angeles, CA - El Rey Theater
10-06 El Paso, TX - Lowbrow Palace
10-07 Dallas, TX - Club Dada
10-08 Austin, TX - Mohawk
10-09 Houston, TX - Fitzgerald's
10-10 New Orleans, LA - One Eyed Jack's
10-11 Tallahassee, FL - Club Downunder
10-13 Birmingham, AL - Bottletree
10-14 Atlanta, GA - Masquerade
10-28 Asheville, NC - Moogfest
11-05 Sao Paulo, BR - Planeta Terra Festival

Monday, September 19, 2011

Malkmus: Moves NYC Show, Stream Solo Noise Pop Video

Stephen Malkmus Solo At GAMH, from the HAD Archive

Fans of Stephen Malkmus have been eagerly awaiting next week's show with the Jicks, in support of the band's latest, Mirror Traffic.  Said fans will probably be more than a little stoked to learn that the gig has been moved from the cavernous Terminal 5, to the far more endearing Webster Hall.  Perhaps less enticing is the fact that the gig has changed from Monday the 26th to Sunday the 25th: no one loves a last minute date change.  Nonetheless, the fact remains that the advent of Jicksian goodness is soon to be upon us in just 6 days!

In the meantime, you can enjoy video from Malkmus' solo set at Noise Pop in 2009.  You may recall that we covered the show at the time, and in the pre-Pavement reunion era, it was a suprisingly awesome swath of that band's tunes.  Moreover, it featured a ton of Malkmus solo material, as well as notable (and fantastic) covers of "Love Train" and "Emotional Rescue".  You can check it all out over at Paste Magazine right now...  (Thanks to an anonymous HAD reader for the tip!)