Karla's reviews

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Friday (March 17th)

Rob and I split up on Friday afternoon because I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the opportunity to see Elliott Brood and Dean Owens. He had heard Mary Lucia from the Current was going to be interviewing Portastatic, and that was a can't-miss for him. Since neither of us could be in two places at once, we agreed on this plan.
I had to find a cab to take me to the Longbranch Inn, where Elliott Brood was playing at 1:00 p.m. The Longbranch is east of 35, but their Bloody Mary's make it worth the trip.
I was blown away by how good the band was. Simply outstanding! The set was over by 1:20 p.m, but it was the most kick-ass 20 minute set I saw all week!
There are three members in Elliott Brood: a drummer, an acoustic guitarist, and a singer who alternated between banjo and ukelele. The sound is sort of an old-timey alt-country with an emphasis on rock. The band had a great rapport with the audience, which isn't surprising since only about 10 people showed up. Apparently, the band had a bit of a rough night on Thursday and were trying to play hard to sweat out the hangover. The lead singer said they would still have been in bed had they not had this gig.
I wish the set had been longer, but I'm hoping they will make it to Minneapolis soon. I can't wait to see them again.
I was lucky enough to find a cab just outside the Longbranch heading back over 35, so I hopped in and went all the way back to Opal Divines for Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens. He was playing as part of the Dog and Pony show which is put on by many local Austin musicians. I think it is the 3rd or 4th year for this non-SXSW event, and it was hosted by Penny Jo Pullus.
I have a friend who used to live in Scotland, who has since emigrated to Chicago to marry the woman he loved. He told me about Dean several years ago. I was hooked from the first time I heard Dean's first solo release from 2001, The Droma Tapes. Dean didn't have any copies of his newest release My Town, which comes out this May, so I guess I'll have to order that one online.
His set lasted about 30 to 45 minutes and featured many new songs and lots of gems from the Droma Tapes. Since it was St. Patricks Day, he decided to give one nod to the Irish holiday by playing a killer acoustic cover of The Undertones' Teenage Kicks. Not may people realize that it's an old Irish folk song :)
Rob had a chance to tell me all about the Portastatic taping after Dean ended his set. Surprisingly, only about seven people showed up for it. Portastatic in this case was simply Mac MacCaughan with an acoustic guitar Britt Daniel (Spoon) had been kind enough to lend him.
He played I Wanna Know Girls and one other song from Portastatic's 2005 brilliant release Bright Ideas, and two of their earlier tunes. Rob was thrilled to be there, and was obviously not disappointed. I'm sure the Current has the show archived somewhere.
Our next destination was The Parish on 6th Street because I needed to catch at least one performance by The Bellrays. We got there a little early and caught part of the Spores set, at least that's who I think it was. They were a three-peice with a chick singer on bass. Pretty heavy stuff for me, but still interesting. Between bands we also got to experience these two rapper/hip hop white kids from Kansas City (I think). They had a friend dressed in a bear suit handing out freshly fried bacon during their rhymes. I found the whole presentation pretty cool.
I went outside and ran into Allison Locey, who was also there for The Bellrays. We tried to figure out how to get Allison inside the club, since it isn't exactly wheelchair friendly, and she was told to go around to the side entrance. Several minutes after I went back in, I noticed Allison wasn't there yet, so I found someone who worked there to find out what was going on. Luckily, we got her inside before The Bellrays took the stage.
What an incredible freaking band they are! It was like going to church! A totally religious experience packed with joy and excitement!. I can't believe I have never seen them live before now. Definitely my best new discovery this year, thanks to Alex Millar. The lead singer is a black woman who was totally dolled up and reminded me of Donna Summer during the disco era. She has some pipes! She's married to the bass player who looks a lot like Garth from Wayne's World. Their guitarist was also incredible and looked a little like George Thoroughgood.
After the set, we got Allison down to the street without too much trouble, and went in search of dinner. We discovered another great place called the Mongolian Barbeque a little off the beaten path. You pick out all the meat and vegetables you want and they have a sauce bar so you can decide how you want your dinner to be spiced, and they cook it up for you on a big metal grill. Another great dinner and we really enjoyed the chance to sit and have some nice conversation with Allison. She told me a few stories about the interesting people she has met at the hostel this year. This is her 7th year volunteering at SXSW I believe, and she had been in town since March 9th, so she had a lot to say.
Rob decided he should see Brakes, so he left us early to catch their showcase at 8:00 p.m. He was not as impressed as many of our friends seem to be, but said it was a pretty good show. I still think the first British Sea Power cd is easily one of the worst things I have ever heard, but their newest Open Season, isn't nearly as bad to my ears.
I had no real plans for Friday other than wanting to see Centro-matic at Maggie Mae's at 1:00 a.m. After Allison went her way, I wandered over to Maggie Mae's to see what was happening there. Rob joined me there after Brakes. The Mendoza Line were still playing when I got there, and I have to admit, their set was definitely better than some of the ones I have seen in the past years. They are just one of those bands that sounds really good on record, but just can't really pull off an interesting live show.
I also caught a little of Great Lake Swimmers and Phosphorescent, but I wasn't paying a lot of attention to the music at that point. Our yearly gathering at Maggie Mae's has always been more about waiting for Centro to play; getting to hang out with friends; and chatting with the bands. I had an opportunity to ask Scott Danbom about the rumors I had heard about their Saturday show, and I believe he told me he had no idea what I was talking about. Yeah, right! It was a good time, but I wish I had known about Dave Dewey's open bar tab.
We attempted to wander out to 6th Street and see what else was happening, but there were lines everywhere we went. No Band of Horses or P.O.S. for us that night. We did run into Tony Nelson and Chris Reimenschneider and had fun chatting with them briefly, but headed back to Maggie Mae's since getting shut out of Centro-matic was definitely not an option. There was actually a short wait to get back in. I guess other people are actually starting to realize that they are the best damn band in the world! I thought it was just me all these years.
As always, Centro-matic rocked the house! While it is true that they can do no wrong in my eyes, all you have to do is see them live and you will know that this band is at the top of their game right now. They've been together for about 10 years and have released about 13 Centro-matic albums in that time, as well as a few side projects under the South San Gabriel moniker. Will Johnson (their lead singer and songwriter) has also put out two solo albums in the past five years. There is not a stinker in the whole bunch, not even a bad song that I have to skip when I listen to them. I think that says a lot, but of course, your mileage may vary.
Their new cd, Fort Recovery, which was released on Misra in March, is a bit more mellow than previous Centro cds. But they have this ability to build up their songs in layers, and the sound turns into this crashing crescendo that never fails to rock your face off. That is exactly how David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) looked after their set was over when I ran into him. David shared a recent bill with Will and Scott on the Undertow Orchestra tour, and had never seen Centro before. I think it is safe to say they gained another fan in David that night. I am going to Chicago to see Centro-matic on Saturday, and I can't wait!
We were able to get into the American Sprits after-party at our hotel thanks to the genius of the amazing K-Fly. We hung out there for a bit with our friends and free cigarettes. I think I left a free cd I had gotten earlier in the day in the cd player there. Too bad, because I think it had The Bellrays on it. We finally crawled up to our room at about 4:00 a.m.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

SXSW-Day 2 (Thursday, March 16th)

Thursday was absolutely packed with daytime shows and parties, and we weren't able to see half of the things we wanted to, but it was still a quality day.
We started out on 6th Street at B.D. Rileys for the Irish breakfast featuring several bands from Ireland and free? breakfast food. Breakfast wasn't on the menu, so I guess there was some kind of secret code word needed in order to order it.
Anyway, we settled in to listen to the soothing sounds of The Amazing Pilots. They were very very good! The band consists of brothers Paul and Phil Wilkinson, who released their first U.S. album, Hello My Captor, on Undertow Records in 2004. Undertow is also home to the likes of Milton Mapes, Glossary, David Bazan, American Music Club, and South San Gabriel, so they definitely have a knack for finding quality bands. The Pilots fit right in with the rest of the Undertow artists with their sparse arrangements and low-key production.
Our next stop was the tent outside of Opal Divines for the "Gram Jam", a singing tribute to the songs of the late, great Gram Parsons. We were chatting with Bobby Bare Jr. for a bit, but he got a call from his 'Grammy' and had to excuse himself.
Susan Marshall was just finishing up her set of Gram songs, and she invited one of her favorite people (mine too) Tim Easton to join her onstage. They performed a lovely duet together, and I wish I could remember what it was, but my memory is fading fast. Susan stepped down, and Tim did a couple of tunes on his own. He brought along fiddle player Megan, who was a very nice touch. Tim was also backed by the U.K. band Goldrush. They provided backup, and also did a set of Gram songs on their own.
Their lead singer's voice was not up to Tim's (or Gram's) standards, unfortunately, but to their credit, no one else can sing Hot Burrito #1 quite like Gram Parsons. They sounded much better on Hot Burrito #2.
Tres Chicas were up next on the 'Gram Jam' bill. They are a female supergroup of sorts, featuring Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown, solo, and as a duet with Thad Cockrell); Lynn Blakely (Glory Fountain, Let's Active, and Oh OK); and Tonya Lamm (Hazeldine). They certainly did justice to their Gram set with harmonies that can send chills down your spine.
I was hoping to catch Elliott Brood on the Headhunters Back patio, where the lovely and talented Carolyn Mark was hosting a Mint/Six Shooter Records afternoon hootenanny. We caught a bit of somebody's set, and it may have been Carolyn's band, but I can't say for sure. If it weren't for the New West party, we might have stayed.
The New West party at Club de Ville is always one of my favorites. I guess it is gaining in popularity because the line to get in was unbelievable! Apparently, the Kris Kristofferson set had just gotten underway and was a must-see for a lot of folks. We were able to hear a bit of it while waiting in line as we chatted with friends through the fence. We also got to see Kris' huge white limo pull up. He got in with some other big-wigs as a bunch of hangers-on followed him out to the car.
St. Louis's own Beatle Bob was one of those hangers-on, and I have to say that guy is really starting to piss me off. He never pays for anything and claims alternately to be a member of the press or a band manager in order to gain access to most places. I understand the bands are starting to be annoyed by his distractions as well. It was amusing back in 1998, but now I just find his presence at shows irritating. I understand most of the St. Louis club owners are also getting a little sick of him too since he is never willing to pay to get in. I would be willing to bet he still lives with his mother.
But I digress. When we finally got into the New West party, we got to see some great friends, drink free beer, and see some great music. The highlights were a real Tim Easton set, featuring two fiddle players, Megan and Beth; The Drams; IV Thieves (the newly named Nic Armstrong and the Thieves); and an acoustic set by The Drive By Truckers.
I've seen all of these bands before and of course, I wasn't disppointed by any of them, but the best thing about this party is the opportunity to talk with people you haven't seen for awhile, and make some new friends.
The highlight for me was a great conversation I had with Craig Finn (Hold Steady, Lftr Pllr). I approached Craig because a friend of mine who grew up with Craig sent me an email last week telling me that Finn had recommended seeing Cows back in the day because "they'll scare the shit out of you!" Craig remembered that conversation and said that Shannon Selberg still scares him a little bit.
The coolest part was that Craig brought up how his wife Barbara is not intimidated by any of the local heavies. She can go up and talk to anybody, and has probably known most of the local hip hop dudes longer than Craig has.
We also talked about how he met Barbara; their wedding (I was at the Lftr Pllr show at Cedarfest the following day); and other miscellaneous Minneapolis stuff. It was very sweet to know how much he misses his wife and wishes he could be around her more this year, but he has a pretty hectic schedule planned.
We heard the rumors, along with about 5000 other people, that Neil Young might show up at his former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Richie Furay's showcase at Antone's at 6:30 p.m. Actually, I sort of thought that could happen before I even got to Texas, so Richie's showcase was on my list of tentative plans. But when we got there, the line was about a mile long, so we thought we would find some dinner instead.
We were quite lucky with dinners this year. We found a great place not far from Antones called Cuba Libre, and the food was wonderful. Chances are it won't even exist next year, but I might look for it when I go back.
Our next show was Earlimart at Buffalo Billiards at 9:00 p.m. I had heard a few good things about the band, but was mostly unfamiliar with them. They were definitely worth checking out. They put on a great show and were loud as hell, which is kind of amazing for a pop band with an organ and acoustic. I think this must have been the year that all the bands turned it up just a little bit for SXSW. Buffalo Billiards is a pretty large room, but somehow all the sound was concentrated right at the from of the stage. I am sure they will be rolling through Minneapolis this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again.
We decided to fill our 10:00 p.m. slot with Austin's own Grand Champeen. We missed their annual Tuesday night performance, and since we had already seen The Drams twice, I thought it was a good call. Rich Mattson was running sound for the band, and did an outstanding job as always. I also chatted with a pre-haircut Dave Russ about how he was missing a Jailbreak gig just to play with the Magnolias.
I love the sound of Grand Champeen. Yes, they can be sloppy, but most everything they do is carefully orchestrated, including the sloppiness. God only knows why these guys haven't gained a larger audience. I find the constant comparisons to early Soul Asylum and The Replacements to be a little unfair. Grand Champeen is much more than another copycat band. Anyone who can write a lyric like Channing Lewis' "...you could be the Alex Chilton to my Chris Bell..." has definitely got more substance than 75% of the bands at SXSW this year. Not to mention that their delivery of such lyrics is smothered in some of the best damn guitar playing you are ever likely to hear.
The 'Peen will be playing a tribute/benefit to Karl Mueller and Soul Asylum in the 7th Street Entry on April 14th. They will be playing all Soul Asylum covers in homage to their heroes, but another band called "Broken Records" (another great Grand Champeen song) featuring members of Kruddler and The New Vintage, will be covering the songs of Grand Champeen. I am really looking forward to this show! Grand Champeen will also be Mike Nicolai's backing band somewhere in the Twin Cities on Saturday, April 15th.
Our friend Flora Flipabitch of the Atomic Bombshells has been talking about Scott H. Biram for years, and so we decided to check him out for the 11:00 p.m. slot at Bourbon Rocks. Biram is a little like an old blues player, except that he isn't old and he is white. I found the performance a little campy, but not bad. Flora said we had just missed SXSW buzz band The Deadstring Brothers, who she was very impressed with. I thought Biram seemed fairly sincere about what he was trying to say, but I would have to see him again to form a more educated judgement, and to eliminate all skepticism.
We thought we would try and see Milton Mapes over at the Habana Calle 6 patio for the midnight slot. I am very glad we did because this band is one of the best Austin and Undertow Records has to offer. I saw them last year at the Turf Club opening for Grand Champeen and Ol Yeller, and was really impressed with their live sound. So impressed in fact, that it took me about 6 months to get into their very excellent 2005 release The Blacklight Trap. They were so good in their live delivery that it took me awhile to realize how good that album actually was. Eventually, I came to love it even though it doesn't capture the live sound of Milton Mapes, but the lyrics and production are really excellent. It was # 4 in my top 10.
We went back to Bourbon Rocks to see The Bottle Rockets play the 1:00 a.m. slot for the Bloodshot showcase. I had missed their set last year because they were playing opposite the best band in the world, Centro-Matic! I had no such excuse this year although I could have checked out The Alarm, Damien Jurado, or Hank III.
I wish I had because The Bottle Rockets decided to play their new album in its entirety for their showcase. It was tepid at best, and it is painful for me to say that, but The Bottle Rockets just are not the band they used to be. Brian Henneman is not writing the quality of lyrics we know from 24 Hours a Day and The Brooklyn Side. The band has only two of its original members left and their set didn't do a thing for me.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

SXSW-Day1 (Wednesday)

Rob and I rolled into Austin around 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, and were lucky enough to be picked up at the airport by a friend who lives in town. He took us to our hotel where we were actually able to check in right away! Hoorah for the Omni! We stashed our bags and headed over to South Congress.
Our first stop after lunch was the Tampa party at the Yard Dog. The party is sponsored by BAAMO (Bay Area Arts and Music Organization, Inc, a group of music-loving Floridians who work very hard all year long to expose Austin to Tampa's music scene. These folks have been throwing a party for the past three years or so. They bring in some local Tampa cuisine like Alligator chili, and get a bunch of Tampa bands to play. We were only able to stay for a couple acts, but we really enjoyed Life of Pi. It was a semi-punk set and rocked pretty hard.
We did our habitual stop at Emo's since they always have a good first official day of SXSW line-up. This year we got to see Charles Bissell of The Wrens doing a solo set. He had some pretty interesting guitar sounds, but overall the performance was a bit lackluster.
Over on the other side of Emo's, we caught The Ponys. From the reaction of my friends, I'm really not sure we saw the "right" Ponys. Several people were hyping the band before the show, but it left us all relatively unimpressed.
Our next stop was at Club de Ville for a special party hosted by some of the many great bands from Denton, Texas. Sadly, we only saw one of them, but it was fronted by the incomparable Brent Best (Slobberbone), and they call themselves The Drams. Former Slobberbone members Jess Barr (guitar) and Tony Harper (drums) along with Keith Killoren (bass) and Chad Stockslager (keyboards) round out this fairly new line-up for Best.
The Drams are much more of a power pop band than Slobberbone's sloppy tales of drunken woe, murder ballads, and love lost, holy crap, do they sound great! Chad's contributions on keys and backing vocals really make this band stand out as one to watch. Best's low, growling vocals surprisingly really fit well with this style of music. I've been a longtime fan of Slobberbone, but I could not be happier with this new incarnation. I saw them three times in Austin, but I could be ready for a tour in a few weeks. R.I.P. Slobberbone. Long live The Drams!
Our daytime adventures ended at Mother Egans, where we ran into Raven and Rich Mattson and his wife. Rich looked good in his brand new haircut. We caught the tail end of the always pleasant Patty Hurst Shifter and The Gourds. We were a little too far away to get much out of The Gourds. They are always more fun up closewhere you can really be a part of the show, so we decided to skip out and find some dinner.
We came back around 8:00 p.m. to see our favorite band from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Glossary!
I'm not sure how to describe Glossary, but I guess you can call them alt-country for lack of a better word. Their songs are pretty darn catchy with intelligent lyrics about what life is like in an eastern Tennessee town. I love the harmony vocals, and the band is just overflowing with talented musicians. I called it a night after Glossary, although Rob went back for I Can Lick Any SOB In The House and Two Cow Garage. I'm pretty sure they rocked.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Tim Easton-400 Bar 4/28/05

Tim Easton with Beau Kinstler @ The 400 Bar
April 28, 2005

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I haven't had a chance to tell you that seeing Tim Easton whenever he's in town is a must-see show. I think its been at least two years since Tim has played in Minneapolis, but he has a history of playing
here for the first night of his tour whenever he releases a new cd. This time out, however, he doesn't have a new cd to promote; just a bunch of new songs he's planning to record here in Minneapolis (presumably with Ed Ackerson at Flowers Studio) over the next couple of weeks. If you missed your chance to hear Tim on Thursday at the 400, you're out of luck for now, but he might be persuaded to make an appearance at one of my local hero's shows next week. His former roommate and bandmate Chris Burney is also in town at the 400 with his band The Sun next Thursday, so chances are pretty good that Tim will be in attendance at that show as well.
Opener Beau Kinstler has a regular gig at the 400 every Thursday, so he was the logical choice for the opening slot. Unfortunately, Kinstler is playing with a full band these days, so his sound is a little removed from Easton's all acoustic set. Kinstler has a strong voice and some compelling lyrics, but I think I prefer him as a solo acoustic act. I've seen him a few times over the past year and an acoustic set showcases his songs a little better, and would have fit more appropriately with the set Tim brought us.
Nevertheless, once Tim hit the stage, all of that was a distant memory. Tim's music has had a special place in my heart for years. He reminds me of lost lovers, dead relatives, and just how good music can be.
Most of the set consisted of new songs which haven't haven't been played live before. As always, these were a special treat intended for his Minneapolis fans. Tim was very polite and appreciative as the audience quietly listened to his new songs. One song, which will probably be called "Let Me Be Next To You" was played early in the set and sounds like a potential hit for the singer-songwriter.
I have gotten to hear this one a couple times over the last year or so; most recently at the New West party at SXSW; and it is instantly accessible and gorgeous. I know it seems like hearing nothing but new songs all night sounds like kind of drag for a fan who doesn't know them, but it was far from it. Tim is an amazing guitar and harp player, and just having the opportunity to watch him play was enough to make the audience sit quietly and pay attention throughout the set. The show was woefully ill attended. I know there were a lot of shows to pick from and I don't mind avoiding a big crowd, but I find it painful that more people don't come to see Tim's kind of talent. I first got hooked on Tim's guitar playing when I saw him open for Mark Eitzel at the 400 a few years ago. Even though Mark's set was a bit of a train wreck, Tim made the evening more than worthwhile, and his apologies for Mark's behavior the next time he came to town made up for that night.
Tim also threw in a few old songs, including Bitters Past, an old Haynes Boys tune, which was Tim's old band with Chris Burney. I understand the Haynes Boys cds are pretty hard to find, so if you see one in a used bin somewhere, you should definitely pick it up. Later in the set, he also took a few requests, including Carry Me, Lexington Jail, and All The Pretty Girls Leave Town. He also threw in a couple of amazing old blues tunes. Tim's history as a busker in Europe gave him plenty of time to learn and appreciate a lot of old songs and that connection with the past makes him an even better songwriter.
Last time Tim came to town, we got a 20-minute Beatles jam. This time the show was decidedly different, but it was still amazing, which is why I want everyone to see him whenever he comes to town.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bettie Serveert w/ The Deaths

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I'm afraid I missed Mean Larry at the Entry on Valentine's Day. I have no excuse except to say that dinner ran late and O' Donovans serves the kind of vodka I like and the Entry doesn't. I've heard good things about his shows and I promise one of these days I'll catch him.
I did walk into the Entry in time to see The Deaths take the stage. I have to say I was quite impressed. I believe one of their first songs was birmingham, the first track off of their 2004 cd Choir Invisible. The song reminded me of The Monkees, and that's a good thing. They bring a very catchy kind of country-tinged pop rock backed by a group of very capable players. Their good-natured banter with the crowd was as entertaining as their music. Vocalist Karl Qualey and bass player Christopher Danforth joked between songs about the members of the audience who remained seated on the floor during their set. The sitters turned out to be promo people for new public radio station The Current who gave out bumper stickers after the show. It wasn't the best concert etiquette I've ever seen, but then again, it wasn't the worst either. I hope they got a chance to appreciate the band as I did. I also picked up Choir Invisble at the show and it's very good.
Bettie Serveert kept the crowd waiting awhile between sets, but it was worth it. Regretably, the Dutch band didn't bring any copies of their newest release Attagirl with them. I haven't had a chance to hear it yet, and the set was heavy on newer tunes. The band's dreamy pop songs coupled with Carol van Dijk's outstanding vocalsand Peter Visser's amazing guitar work have made Bettie Serveert one of the best bands of the last ten years. Their live show is always a joy to watch and this one was no exception.
Early in the set, the band pulled out one of their older tunes, Kid's Allright, from 1992's Palomine. They announced that it would rock and it certainly did. They played another Palomine track called Leg at the end of the show. It's always been one of my favorites and was nothing short of amazing.
The Entry was packed so I didn't stay for the encore. I'm sure the band kept the vibe started with Leg going a little longer and everyone left happy as I did. I even took my bumper sticker without reprimanding the promo people for their rudeness.

7th Street Entry-The Ashtray Hearts, Martin Devaney, & Stephanie Says

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When I walked into the 7th Street Entry on Friday, February 11th, I recognized the voice I was hearing from somewhere. I also thought the slight, blonde woman with an acoustic guitar onstage looked somewhat familiar. Ashtray Hearts band leader Dan Richmond confirmed my suspicions when he told me she was Stephanie Winter. Back in the nineties, Stephanie provided lovely, understated backing vocals to Jim's wry statements about life with the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group.
More recently, Stephanie has been singing with The Autumn Leaves and has just released a solo album called Sex, Socialism, and the Seaside. The Leaves appear on the album and joined Stephanie onstage for the second half of her set. I've never been a big fan of female singers and Stephanie's soft-spoken style and wispy voice make it difficult to understand her lyrics. She also doesn't have the stage
presence one would expect from a singer with so much experience. I found the solo part of the performance to drag a bit and sound pretty much the same throughout. When she was joined by the Autumn Leaves, the set got a little more interesting, but not by much. I have a lot of respect for anyone who has been around our music scene for several years, but I couldn't find a good reason to see Stephanie Says again. Judging by the crowd chatter, neither did they.
Martin Devaney and his band were up next on the bill. Brian O'Neal of Big Ditch Road was guesting with Martin on pedal steel. Jake Hyer from the Get Up Johns also guested on mandolin for most of the set. The first three or four songs featured just Martin on acoustic guitar and Brian on pedal steel.
The rest of the band joined the two of them onstage after that. Martin has been playing with the same lineup for the last year or so consisting of Josh Peterson on guitar, Matt Palin on bass, and Kevin Hunt on drums.
Martin's new album La Mancha features a little more rock than his other two releases. The majority of the set featured tunes from La Mancha as well as a few from his 2003 release September.
The set was energetic and entertaining. Besides having one of the best backing bands in town, Martin is a very talented singer and songwriter. He's also one of the nicest people in the Twin Cities music scene right now. Before leaving the stage, he announced the Ashtray Hearts as one of his favorite local bands.
The Ashtray Hearts are one of my favorite local bands too. They have been ever since the first time I saw them at the Turf Club nearly four years ago. There is something very special about their lo-fi, layered sound featuring complex instrumentation coupled with Dan Richmond's haunting lyrics. They make me stop and listen and they stick with me long after the show is over. They haven't played a lot of shows over the last couple years, and frankly, I've missed them. The good news is that they've just finished recording a follow-up to 2002's Old Numbers which is long overdue and the anticipated release date is sometime this April.
Most of the set consisted of new songs which will be on the new album, including the title track Perfect House. The band sounded great and I'm really looking forward to the release date. Perfect House promises to be slightly different than Old Numbers. From the sound of what I heard at the Entry, it should be a little more upbeat, but promises to be just as enchanting.
There are several things I really like about seeing the Ashtray Hearts. One of them is Brad Augustine's accordian playing. It's not an instrument I get to see or hear often, and what it adds to the sound and image of the band is quite beautiful. Aaron Schmidt's trumpet playing and moody vocals are another. Brad and Aaron also trade off on keyboards and both add their own style to the unique sound of the Hearts. Steve Yernberg's guitar solos are another key piece of the sound. They've gotten more complex with time and always stand out as one of the best parts of the show. The newer songs feature more of Steve's guitar solos. I try not to pass up a chance to see this band and with a new release on the way, there should be more opportunities for me as well as the rest of you to see them.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Winter Blanket, The Magnolia Electric Company, & Valet

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The Winter Blanket, The Magnolia Electric Company, and Valet
7th Street Entry-12/11/2004

December 11th was my night to catch up on bands I haven't heard enough of the last couple years. It was also my first time back in the 7th Street Entry since the reopening of First Avenue. Not much has changed at The Entry and that's a good thing. For sight lines and sound, The Entry has always been the best place to see live music and I'm glad that hasn't changed a bit.
Most everyone I knew at the show was there to see Jason Molina and The Magnolia Electric Company, the recent reformation of Songs:Ohia as a rock band. Jason hasn't played around the Twin Cities nearly enough lately, and some of my friends have followed him around Milwaukee, Chicago, and L.A. to hear the new incarnation of the band. Magnolia Electric Company and The Winter Blanket put together the Polar Bear Tour this winter and The Entry show was one of their final dates together. Local band Valet was on hand for the headlining slot.
My friends and I seemed to be in the minority as Valet were creating the biggest amount of buzz that night. I thought I had seen Valet before and been disappointed, but I stuck around for part of their set and realized that I was quite mistaken. Even though it seemed wrong to have the out-of-town bands play first, I received a good education that night on all three acts.
The Winter Blanket hails from Illinois and consisted of former members of the band Darling, among others. The sound was layered, soft, and mellow, but had a strong back beat. Vocal and songwriting duties were traded between Doug Miller and Stephanie Davila. This four-piece provided a very pleasant opening set for Molina and company.
Next up was The Magnolia Electric Company. The last time I saw Jason Molina he was doing a solo acoustic opening set for Damien Jurado. This was in The Entry a couple years ago. Although that set was haunting and showcased Jason's vocal stylings suberbly, this show really rocked!
I don't know where Jason found his lead guitarist, but the guy was a joy to watch. Molina is no hack on electric guitar himself and the combination of the two guitars was nicely rounded out by drums, bass, and keyboards. Then there were the lyrics. There is a depth to them which would make any songwriter proud and Molina delivers them with a sense of urgency that falls somewhere between a scream and a whisper.
After hearing about these shows from friends around the world, I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it for myself. The Neil Young and Crazy Horse comparisons are apt. At the rate Molina is releasing new material, it seems likely that he could give Neil a run for his money over the next 30 years
As I said before, I thought I had seen local band Valet before, but luckily, I was mistaken about that. I don't know how I've managed to miss them all this time because they are definitely worth seeing. Singer Robin Kyle's Greg Norton-esque handlebar mustache is one thing I would have remembered. The impressive guitar fills from Ashtray Heart and everyone's favorite math teacher Steve Yernberg
is another.
Valet turned out to be a very pleasant surprise to wrap up my first night back at The Entry. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleased to hear a clever power pop set from these guys. I'll definitely be checking out this band again and look forward to hearing their 2004 release, Life On The Installment Plan. Although I didn't stay for the entire set, I heard enough to be intrigued.

the Flops-400 Bar 12/10/2004

the Flops-400 Bar

Contrary to reports in the City Pages, last week's show at the 400 Bar was actually a Flops headlining gig, not a Kristin Mooney show. Kristin opened the show with her band, which includes husband Eric Heywood on pedal steel and electric guitar. It was nice to have them back in town again. The couple have been living in Los Angeles for the last couple years making music. Kristin has a beautiful voice and a great backing band, but I found her lyrics a little bland.
Matt Wilson and John Munson are the Flops. For witty banter and a fun live experience, they can't be beat. Some of my favorite memories of live shows center around Matt Wilson's commentary. This one was no exception and included cracks about J.C. Penney wool slacks and "songs of crushing woe."
The set included songs both new and old, including a few Trip Shakespeare tunes. John sang several songs as well. About halfway through the set, the boys brought up Eric Fossett, a drummer they've been recording some new songs with. The drums added a whole new dimension to the Flops sound. It was amazing!
Kristin Mooney was called up to sing backing vocals on Descender. An audience member was recruited to hold her microphone since there were no extra mic stands in the house. It was fun in typical Flops fashion. Eric Heywood also helped out on pedal steel for the last couple songs of the set. He added an even more haunting quality to Matt's plaintive song of lost love, Susannah.
For me, this show was a big improvement over the last one I saw in June at the 400. There was a better blend of old and new songs as opposed to the mostly unfamiliar set I heard then. Matt was also in better spirits this time around. I've seen these guys so many times and in so many different incarnations that I wonder if newcomers enjoy it as much as I do. I suppose there is something to be said for knowing the material better than others, but I think everyone can enjoy the Flops on some level, whether it be the banter or just the great songs.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Patterson Hood-400 Bar 12/3/04


Drive By Truckers founding member and singer Patterson Hood treated Twin Cities audiences to two solo acoustic shows at the 400 Bar earlier this month. I was only able to attend the first night and I heard the second show was even better. I missed the chance to hear one of my favorite DBT songs, 18 Wheels of Love, a song Patterson wrote for his mom as a wedding gift. In spite of this bit of bad luck, I'm still very happy that I had the opportunity to see this prolific and very talented singer-songwriter from Alabama.
Patterson called his show the "Tom Waits set" and I think this is an apt comparison. Although Waits is more distinctively Midwestern, while Hood is all about the South, both share the similarity of storylike songs and raspy vocals. The more low-key set was due primarily to Patterson having some throat problems as well as being tired from recent touring. He managed to fit the solo tour between Truckers dates and has been on the road for most of the last three months. Patterson was in good spirits and seemed happy to be playing the 400, a club which has been very supportive of the band the past few years.
The release of Patterson's first solo release Killers and Stars provided the impetus for this tour. The album was recorded in early 2001 and for the last couple of years news of it's existence had been spreading among fans, so Patterson had been burning copies of it for those who wanted to buy it at solo gigs. He finally decided to release it legitimately on New West earlier this year.
Patterson was talkative and animated as he told stories about nearly every song he performed. Sink Hole, which appears on the DBT record, Decoration Day, is going to be featured in the upcoming Ray McKinnon film Chrystal. The song was inspired by McKinnon's earlier short film The Accountant. Two additional Truckers songs will also be on the soundtrack.
The crowd was smaller than I anticipated, but for the most part was quiet and respectful. There were a couple of women up front who didn't seem to realize how much their voices could carry, but at least they seemed to know who they were watching. I imagine it's a little tough to acclimate yourself when you go from a DBT show to a quiet solo set from the band's lead singer.
When Patterson asked what we wanted to hear about midway through the set, Pay No Attention To Alice was requested and played. It's an excellent cover of a song by Tom T. Hall which was written about a friend whose wife was an alcoholic. Patterson uncovered this gem and wisely decided to put it on Killers and Stars. He more than does the song justice. Patterson's set featured songs from Killers and Stars, nearly every Truckers cd, as well as some new songs that haven't been released yet. Patterson's recent marriage and the imminent arrival of a new daughter next year have prompted him to make plans to record another solo album next January. One of the new songs is called Grandaddy and was inspired by thoughts about his impending fatherhood. We also got a live version of Killers and Stars single, although Patterson admitted that an album like that doesn't really have one, but if it did, Uncle Disney would be it. It's a wonderful story about what might happen when Walt Disney is finally taken out of his current cryogenic state.
For a fun closer to the show, Patterson played The Night G.G. Allin Came To Town, a song he wrote for bandmate Mike Cooley on the occasion of his birthday. The song also included a great story about a friend whose eight-year old son had a special affinity for it. The phrase "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" will never be the same for me again.
For the encore, we were treated to Patterson's historical narrative on the musician who inspired The Living Bubba. It's another of my favorite Truckers songs and it was nice to hear Patterson tie his personal experiences together in a way that made it obvious that it was one of his favorites too. He ended with the song Careless, which became especially poignant in an acoustic setting. All in all, it was a very worthwhile show to attend. I'm not as impressed with the direction the Truckers have taken recently, but I still love Patterson's storytelling songs because they are 100% heart.