Here we are on the eve of the first of May, and my April recap starts with two instances that build from singles mentions last time out.
I’d only heard Of Monsters and Men’s track ”From Finner” when last I wrote, but it was enough to pry a tweet from me, and to make me delve deeper. I sampled My Head is an Animal, their debut LP, and just a few seconds of a few songs was enough to convince me to buy. I haven’t regretted it since. “Little Talks” is the lone official video from the collection, and as if the music wasn’t charming enough the video totally enchants. I’ve yet to find a song on the album that makes me feel any differently, and it’s been in very heavy rotation of late.
I also wrote a line or two about the weirdly prolific and carefully eccentric Jack White last time, citing “Sixteen Candles” as being everything I’ve always liked about his quirky brand of unpolished rock. Once I heard Blunderbuss in its entirety I found much more to like, and for almost completely different reasons in every instance. As expected, I didn’t love every outing; by my rough calculation about two thirds of the tracks hit me with that inimitable blend of “Holy shit…” and “Haven’t I heard that somewhere before?” that always astounds and amazes me, and his warbling Tiny Tim-like croon pulled more than one appreciative laugh outta me on first listen. Standout tracks for me include “Weep Themselves to Sleep”, “On and On and On”, “Hypocritical Kiss” and the title track, which may be my favorite. Jack gets it, and whether he’s displaying his effortless prowess and understanding or being purposefully obtuse or goofy he’s one of the truly genuine artistes making relevant and unique sounds these days.
But thankfully not the only one, or this would be a much shorter entry.
April represented a high water mark for the number of shows I had scheduled – and included two more that I hadn’t planned – so Spring in Atlanta (and elsewhere) continues its string of such cornucopian seasons.
Early in the month I drove to The Melting Point in nearby Athens to see Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch, sans Village, and was once again amply rewarded for the effort. New two-person arrangements of songs I was familiar with, along with some new stuff and some novelties (like Abigail playing a kick drum while standing at the mic with her banjo, and Kai drenching the very air with aural torrents that pulsed and wove a lush backdrop for the two to play on), not to mention the Sweetwater Exodus on tap, made the drive totally worth it.
The Boxer Rebellion did some sound-drenching of their own at Center Stage in the middle of the month, and did not disappoint. The most pleasant surprise of the night for me, though, was how much I enjoyed their opener, Grouplove. I liked the only thing I’d heard from them prior to this, but had little expectation and no idea how energetic and just plain happy their music is. I caught myself laughing more than once at their onstage antics – they are obviously having the time of their lives, and it shows in every move they make.
The following week welcomed the Punch Brothers to the Variety Playhouse on what was a very busy day in Little Five Points. The Sweetwater 420 festival was happening just a few blocks away, and it was Independent Record Store day to boot, so hippies and hipsters abounded, and car traffic had to take a back seat to all of it. (Snagged some wicked cool vinyl, btw, at Criminal Records before the show: Sara Watkins’ single with Fiona Apple, pressed on sweet green vinyl; Bowerbirds; Grouplove; and Good Old War’s full length).
The Bros were, as I’d hoped, completely amazing. Consummate showmen and individually virtuosic on their respective instruments, playing as a unit they were near faultless. Exhibiting the same sense of fun and lightheartedness as Grouplove had the week prior, when they got serious we all felt it immediately, and they virtually smoked from the stage. Some choice covers, including a moving version of “The Weight” to close in honor of Levon, and a healthy representation from their latest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now? made it easily one of the best shows, start to finish, I’ve seen this year.
Opener Jesca Hoop was equally inspring, at least for me. Surprisingly, given the abundance of the hippie ideal in sight earlier, her brand of ethereal imagery and unusual (but achingly beautiful) delivery seemed lost on much of the audience. It was doubly surprising to me given that everyone was there to see Punch Brothers, the very representation of unorthodox, non-traditional approaches to traditional instruments and sounds. I was baffled, but I didn’t let it keep me from being transported to whatever space it is that Jesca calls home, or at least inspiration. Playing a white Les Paul with no other accompaniment (with the exception of Mr. Thile joining her on mandolin for one of hers – they sounded amazing together vocally and instrumentally) the songs I’d come to love from her fully fleshed-out album sound were made new, and were no less moving for it.
The first of the unplanned gigs presented itself while I was in Toronto for business. I always check Songkick and a few other sites like that when traveling, and every so often I get lucky – like finding the Girlyman gig while in Denver a few weeks ago, and finding out Death Cab was playing at Massey Hall while I’d be in Toronto.
This one is kind of tough to write about for a couple of reasons.
I loved the idea of seeing them at Massey – I have a decent live Neil Young album from the 70′s that was recorded there – and this would be the third time seeing them in the last two years. Both of the other shows (one at The Fox, one at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater with my girls) were stellar.
This one wasn’t, and I so wanted it to be.
They’ve changed up the setlist pretty drastically, presumably to accommodate their touring with the Magik Magik Orchestra, a 7-piece ensemble who played beautifully, and who opened the show with a nice long piece of stringed heaven.
I’m usually more than into it when bands dig deep into their backlog and play some of the more obscure, fan-friendly stuff, but that night it seemed like that’s all they were playing. I finally heard “Cath…”, one of my favorites, about 8 or 10 songs in, and I remember thinking, ‘OK, now we’re getting there…’ And we promptly went right back where we were before. I normally love Ben Gibbard’s writing and performing, and all of the band’s playing, but not long after that I did what I very rarely do – I can’t remember doing it in years.
I had a briefly magical moment on the walk back to the hotel, though, that redeemed the evening.
The show was on the same Thursday that brother Levon was called back home. As I was strolling along through a very nice Toronto evening I passed the local Hard Rock and figured I’d have a drink and pickup some swag for the crowd back in Atlanta. As I was checking out in the merch area I asked the very nice sales girl if she’d heard about Mr. Helms’ passing. “No!” she said, seeming to be genuinely taken aback. “Oh, man. You know Dylan first met the band here, right?”
“In Toronto?” I asked.
“No. In this building.”
Sure enough the first window of memorabilia on the way to the bar was a full case of albums, instruments and photos celebrating The Band, opposite a similar display of Bob Dylan pieces.
So I had a whiskey or two, toasted the man and the memories with a couple at the bar, and made my way back to the hotel.
The other unexpected show was a much more pleasant surprise.
Just last week I went to The Masquerade to see a band I knew nothing about, opening for a band I’d heard of but never from. Why? Because one of my daughter’s best friends in Atlanta is seeing the drummer for the opening band. Duh.
I’d met John from Concord America weeks before, and didn’t know he was a drummer, or in a band, or even Kate’s boyfriend. He seemed cool and we always made polite small talk. So to find all of that out about him, all at once, meant that I HAD to go to the show.
And, man, am I glad that I did.
They rocked. Hard. Borderline punk, but much more deep, fast hard guitar rock that at times reminded me of Zeppelin after a heavy session at Starbucks – I heard some Sabbath references in there, too, oddly enough – with some jaw dropping time changes that belied their years and experience.
But John himself was the biggest revelation. He was a beast on the drums, and I told him so afterwards. Pure energy – I was a little surprised his body could hold all of it without imploding. All of it was channeled into his kit, though, and pounded out the rhythm of the night for us, sometimes in a machine-gun staccato, sometimes painting softly with the brushes (but usually gunning…), always providing a solid backbone for the other guys to build on, which they did in high style. Check this one out – it’s more towards the punk end of the spectrum but represents their sound well, I think.
Another thing I told John that night: I will see them whenever and wherever they play again. Any time at all. You should, too.
That’s way too much for one entry, and I didn’t even get to how Anais Mitchell’s album transformed me one morning while working last week, or how discovering honeyhoney’s Daytrotter session was one of the best surprises ever, and prompted me to buy their album, too (AND contribute to one of the great causes with which they’re affiliated, Feed Them With Music – check them out and give here), so they’ll all have to wait until next time.
Keep your ears and eyes open til then, and let me know what’s been turning you on lately, too.