Saturday, November 13, 2010

we'll rise this sunken ship out of the lake.

and it's not too late
(augustines rise ye sunken ships)

My favorite band at the 2009 Capitol Hill Block Party was, quite unexpectedly, a group I had never even heard of. They were named Pela, and I was mesmerized by their songs and stage presence. I think that I even compared them to Pearl Jam, which is no small praise from me. I liked them so much that I not only bought their album, but I also read every interview I could find and watched all their videos on youtube. However, soon after this Pela announced that they were breaking up. I think that I remember them saying something about a record deal that had fallen through (they had several songs for a new album, if I recall correctly).

Fast forward a year and a half to last Friday. I was driving to work, listening to KEXP when I heard a familiar song that I recognized as "Philadelphia" by Pela (I had downloaded a live performance podcast from KEXP and listened to that song on repeat approximately a million times during that year and a half). After the song, John Richards said that indeed it was Pela (or 2 of the members of that group) who were now known as Augustines. After work, I came home and devoured everything I could find about this group; I listened to their live session on KEXP (which you can listen to here and which I can't recommend nearly enough) and spent hours watching the three videos I could find of them on youtube over and over. During the interview with KEXP, the lead singer Billy talks about his brother who had a mental illness, was in prison, and ended up committing suicide.

Admittedly, I have a weakness for charismatic lead singers and Billy McCarthy is definitely one. Yeah he occasionally makes funny faces while he is playing and makes generous use of vocal fillers (the "come on, come on, come on's" and "hey-ya's") but I think that is what makes the songs sound so real and, dare I say, anthemic (is that a word?). When he sings, "Kid, I drove all night to tell you I love you," how can your heart not want to burst? I'd follow his voice anywhere. During their KEXP interview, Billy talks about the music community that they are a part of that helped them survive Pela's breakup, and how that community is totally outside of the music industry. I love them. And despite all that they went through, the fact that their new album is going to be called rise ye sunken ships says a lot about the group and about why I like them. I listen to music because it makes me feel - happy, sad, mad, frustrated.. but, ultimately, uplifted. And that is what these Augustine songs make me feel, ten-fold. That's a cliche, but I don't care because it's completely true.

Here's another video from that Augustine's show at the Middle East in Boston, just because I can't choose only one:

Please play in Seattle soon. John Richards from KEXP seems to love them, so that's a good start.

p.s. on their website they have a free download of Book of James as well as a promotional video for their new album that's pretty darn good. I think it was directed by someone from Seattle.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

sometimes i need a revelation...

sometimes it's all too much to take
sometimes i need a revelation
this time i'm making my own...

the swell season in portland, oregon 8-21-10

So much has happened since I last wrote in this sadly-neglected blog that I don't think I'll ever catch up (and I want to!), but I'll start with the most recent: seeing the swell season in Portland and Seattle this past weekend.

If you know me, you know that my two favorite bands - and my yardstick for that is that they are the only two bands i would ever consider traveling any distance to see (as you will come to understand in subsequent posts) - are Pearl Jam and The Frames. and my two favorite singers are Glen Hansard and Eddie Vedder. Really, I think that, money and time willing, I would eagerly follow either of those men to the ends of the earth. And still want be left wanting more.

The Oregon Zoo was, surprisingly to me, a GREAT venue for a concert. I walked past the people sitting on the lawn to the small standing area in front of the stage, where I positioned myself on what I affectionately refer to as "Mike's side" (as in McCready) for Black Francis and my beloved Glen and Marketa (and the rest of The Frames).

Glen and Mar began the show with a solo cover of Cactus; this was the first of many moments during this concert that reminded me of why I love this group so much. It must take guts to show up on stage and not only play but open with a song by the man who played right before you and whose music you love (in fact, later in the concert, Glen said that Surfer Rosa by the Pixies changed his life). I hate to bring up Eddie Vedder again (ok.. full disclosure: that's a lie, I love any opportunity I can find to talk about Ed), but it reminded me of him singing on stage with Bruce Springsteen or Pete Townshend.

Seeing Glen Hansard perform - whether it be with the Swell Season or the Frames - reminds me of why I love music so much, and of the transformative, cathartic power of witnessing songs performed live. One of my favorite songs from the Swell Season's first album, Leave, starts off with Glen strumming his guitar quietly and sounding like a man who is resigned to his fate; by the end of the song, it feels like he is purging his demons, or something, as he screams and plays his guitar so fast that strings break and pieces of wood go flying. And I'm serious when I say that; that's what happens. You can't take your eyes away, nor do you want to. This is what music is about. Joy, pain, happiness, anger, frustration... rolled up into one and delivered by a master storyteller.

At this point in writing this, I'll pause and admit that I actually wasn't looking forward to this show because I don't really like the last Swell Season album. In fact, more than once on Friday morning I almost talked myself out of driving to Portland for this concert. So it's a testament to the group that I can honestly say that, while I'm still not a fan of Strict Joy the album, I loved the songs performed live. And I'm not giving Glen an easy pass here because he's Glen (well, maybe I am), but honestly when Low Rising started, I wanted to do nothing more than close my eyes, sing along and pretend that I was the only person in the audience.

"This is an old Frames song," Glen said, before they started Revelate. This is one of the first Frames songs that I heard, and hearing it instantly brings a smile to my face. And when Glen sings, "My open arms, my lucky charms," I just want to reach my arms into the sky and hug myself all at the same time. I think of Revelate as a plea to god, a list of grievances to the world, and an embrace of life all put together into one song.

One of the best moments of the concert was at the end when they did the Pixies' Where Is My Mind? There is a video of this song taken from a concert at the Henry Fonda in LA on youtube that I have watched countless times. Before they begin, Glen says, "There is a song that we allow ourselves to play when we're in a really good space, and we're in a good space now." And I'm guessing they must have also been in a good space in Portland. Anyway, somewhere during the second verse, Black Francis came out on stage to sing with Glen. And it's apparent that these two are really good friends - there is something really amazing and cool about witnessing musicians who obviously have mutual respect for each other perform together.

And the most exciting part of all? Before the show even started, I noticed a postcard at the merchandise table that listed the North American cities on the Frames' upcoming twentieth anniversary tour. As they have now officially announced, the Frames will be playing in both of those cities in late November. And as luck will have it, the Seattle show is on the Friday after Thanksgiving and Portland is the following Saturday. Another perfect weekend? Yes, please.

Monday, March 1, 2010

hootenanny for haiti

my pain is self chosen
at least i believe it to be
i could either drown
or pull off my skin and swim to shore
now i can grow a beautiful shell for all to see.
mad season, river of deceit

i've said it before, and pardon me while i say it again, but i LOVE living in seattle. what i witnessed last night at the showbox is reason number 25433 why. or reason number 1, i can't decide which.

you know that feeling that you get before a show you've been looking forward to FOREVER? that feeling of nervous anticipation, like butterflies in your stomach? yeah, i kind of love that feeling. and i had it all weekend. i wish that i had a good camera that could really capture what the stage looked like at the showbox - there were a couple of big couches, some stools, some music stands, and a lot of candles. basically, it was like a living room. and right above where i was standing, there were microphones pointed at the crowd.

according to wikipedia, a hootenanny is an informal, festive performance by folk singers, often including audience participation. that's really the best way to describe the night. all the musicians - too many to count, but i'll try: mark pickerel, kim virant, kristen ward, duff mckagen, jeff rouse, tim dejulio, mike mccready, star anna, gary westlake, chris friel, matt cameron, and other people i'm forgetting - sat on the couches with their instruments and each came up front one at a time to sing a song while the rest played along. mike did a rolling stones song, for example, kim virant sang neil young, mark pickerel did tom petty, star anna sang a FATASTIC version of what i think is an otis redding song (watch me be embarrassed that i'm wrong) which makes me want to immediately run out and purchase her records, and etc...

a definite highlight was when kim warnick, formerly of the fastbacks, came out and sang belinda carlisle's song just like heaven. i can't believe i'm admitting this, but i knew literally every single lyric to that song. somehow the music pulled that out of the deepest recesses of my brain. it's sort of frightening to think about what portion of my mind is made up by song lyrics. plus, she made a somewhat dirty joke when she said she had come out of retirement "only for one night.. and that's what she said."

brad, who i wrote about in my last post and who will be playing at the showbox in april (!!), played buttercup. and i suppose this is as good a place as any to write about shawn smith coming out later to sing crown of thorns with mike, stone, et al. despite the guy singing off-key in my ear (or, heck, maybe because of him - he sure seemed to know all the lyrics to EVERY song and his enthusiasm was kind of infectious), i don't think i'm exaggerating to say that this was one of the best moments, musically or otherwise, i have experienced since seeing pearl jam in philadelphia last october. SERIOUSLY.

... but only one of the best. another of those moments was to be had at this show when mike, duff and jeff rouse (who i also now feel the need to find out more about) played the mad season song river of deceit. the song that i quoted at the beginning of this post. the song that i remember first hearing on the pearl jam radio show self pollution radio in 1995, sitting in my bedroom listening to with the volume low so that my mom and dad wouldn't hear. earlier tonight, i found a video of this song on youtube, and i told myself i would only watch it once.. well, now it's 2 and a half hours later, and i've been pretty much listening to it nonstop. seriously. and i have an overwhelming urge to dig out above, the mad season record. perhaps the best thing i can say about this entire show is that it makes me want more. i want to listen to mad season for the first time in about 10 years, i want to go see brad in april, i want to hear more of star anna's (and kim virant and mark pickerel, and everyone else honestly) music, i just want. music.

here's that video of river of deceit

Friday, February 26, 2010

it's only a matter of time

thanks to the person who commented on my last post, i now feel re-energized to get back to blogging. we'll see how long this lasts...

i do have something to write about, namely the satchel reunion show i went to at the crocodile cafe last week. satchel is a band that i didn't really know anything about, honestly, until pearl jam posted a link on their website about their upcoming show. i was curious, so i did some digging and found out that the singer for satchel was none other than shawn smith from brad. shawn smith's voice is, i think, really amazing, unique and powerful. so i immediately decided that i'd go. what the heck. i love music, and i love playing six degrees of pearl jam. (that's how i've found some of my favorite bands: sleater kinney, goodness, death cab for cutie.. but i digress).

the show was great. from watching a few live satchel videos on youtube, and of course also from listening to brad, i knew that my favorite songs were the ones that shawn played on keyboard. so i positioned myself right in front of that for the show.

the setlist mostly included heavier songs, a few of which i recognized, most of which i did not. the highlight for me was when shawn came out solo for the encore and sat down at the keyboard for buttercup. it sounded like the whole audience was singing along with him when he got to the chorus: it's just a matter of time..."

speaking of brad, they are going to be playing at the showbox in april (!!) and speaking of the showbox, i will be in attendance this sunday night for the "hootenanny for haiti" which features, among others, mike mccready and matt cameron of pearl jam. (and also kim virant, who i adore). and speaking of pearl jam, i am going to ireland in june to see them in dublin and belfast. and to spend two weeks traveling around a country i have always wanted to see. who knows, i might even run into glen busking on grafton street. tee hee.

i love music.