These Projectors Need Cleaning

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Dirty Projectors at Bottom Lounge, Friday, November 13, 2009

Dirty Projectors’s Friday night show at Bottom Lounge was a definite contrast to the other two bands we’ve seen in the past few days. John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats teeter on the line between celebratory and morose, and Art Brut remains indie rock’s funniest (and musicially exceptional) inside joke.

With vocalist/guitarist Dave Longstreth’s group, there is no humor. It’s a collective of very serious musicians that conciously take the fun out of rock and roll. It’s impossible not to detect a cultist vibe that runs through the Dirty Projectors when they’re on stage. Longstreth is clearly the leader, and everyone seems to be under his spell – the girls especially. Singers Amber Coffman, Hayley Dekle shimmied unconvincingly like 60’s girl group backup singers. Rarely did anyone else challenge his stage presence or his acrobatic guitar stills. This was painfully apparent as his guitar essentially drowned out Coffman’s soaring vocal on “Stillness Is The Move”.

What was terribly disappointing is the lack of the camaraderie between the group. None of them really seemed to enjoy what they were doing on stage. Multi-instrumentalist Angel Deradoorian, a talented solo musician in her own right, remained far stage right all evening and hardly cracked a smile.

On Bitte Orca, the band’s latest record, the songs are infectious. They breathe. They have great hooks and incredible vocal interplay. Live, they’re a mess of noise that is opposite the album’s calculated synchronization. For what Longstreth and Co. have finally accomplished on record, they’ve got a ways to go with their live performance. There are glaring rough edges, and perhaps with a little more collaboration live – stretching the songs with the same kind of elasticity that permeates their singer, they’ll have a more engaging live show. Until then, they’ll continue to sound like a gaggle of sound without a clear direction.

A Tale of Two Rock Shows

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The Mountain Goats, Thursday, November 5, 2009 at Metro

The Mountain Goats played to a mostly packed crowd at Metro last Thursday. John Darnielle and the lineup consisting of bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster leaned copiously on last month’s release of The Life of the World To Come, a record tackling religion, specifically inspired by certain Bible verses. Heavy themes for sure, and maybe that’s why the record really hadn’t sunk in for most of the crowd – certainly less sing-a-longs than expected. That said, the show was immensely powerful, especially as Darnielle played several songs solo. He was chatty and engaged the audience on multiple occasions, often deflecting obscure song requests. The best moments came when his collaborators returned for classics like “No Children,” “This Year,” and at the very last minute, the stunning, sparkling “Going To Georgia”.

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Art Brut, Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at Lincoln Hall

Art Brut took the stage with the shit-kicking “Formed A Band,” an easy (and awesome) set opener. Frontman Eddie Argos commands so much attention from the crowd it’s easy to forget that there’s a talented band behind him. Argos’s long winded ‘Where- is-this-going?’ storytelling and jumping into the crowd during “Modern Art,” was excellent, as it built into an exhilarating pit around the singer. Replacements references were abound, (the band couldn’t remember their song about the Replacements in Minneapolis the night before, and therefore, did not play it as a tribute to them) as well as Ian Catskillin’s “Bastards of Young,” tease at the beginning of their set. It was a total pleasure to get to see a band with such an outsized personality at such a small venue. Unfortunately, save for the front section, the rest of the crowd stood dazed and mostly unresponsive of guitarist Jasper Future’s efforts to get the crowd clapping.

Perhaps it was the location, Chicago’s brand new Lincoln Hall opened just three weeks ago. It’s a converted one screen movie theater that’s part bar and restaurant, and venue with a total capacity just over 500. Gorgeous woodwork, exposed brick and muted colors are a nice theme for the place, which put it a level above most Chicago venues. Perfect for the size of Art Brut’s audience, but still too small for Art Brut’s collective ego.

The Gaslight Anthem @ Double Door 8/8/09

Out in a sea of Gaslight Anthem fans – especially those at the Double Door Saturday evening – there’s a meshing of two very distinct types of music fans.

In one corner, there’s the punk rock fans – kids who get their kicks from groups like Alkaline Trio, Against Me!, and the Lawrence Arms. Those bands are scruffier, edgier versions of their pop-punk counterparts that probably spent more time with the first three Clash records than the three hit Blink-182 albums.

In the other corner, there’s the always mercurial indie rock fans, who have been won over by the band’s roots-rock Americana and cinematic lyrics. The band’s working class image is the in rock-and-roll trend right now – it’s a template that they follow like their counterparts Lucero, the Drive-By Truckers, and The Hold Steady. There’s a simple reason for that: it never gets old.

The Gaslight Anthem took the stage shortly after midnight. By then, the club had turned into a sweatbox. Any hopes of recycling a pair of pants or t-shirt for the next day were dashed. Those in the first few rows were dripping from head to toe – it was overwhelmingly soggy.

For a band with as much positive buzz as The Gaslight Anthem, it’s hard to believe that they’d be anything but a sure-thing live act. In that category, they disappoint.

Rock and roll to me, comes from the interactivity. I enjoy watching frontmen like Eddie Argos of Art Brut treat his songs as if they were his own personal theater, jumping into the crowd, faux-sulking while sitting on a monitor, and acting as if his band members are just some second-rate session musicians carrying out his bidding.

So, it’s was a bit maddening as a concertgoer to watch The Gaslight Anthem with a such a short range of motion. Strumming the guitar and occasionally playing to the drummer caused my mind to wander more than I hoped. There’s a barometer I carry to measure my enjoyment level at a show: my cell phone. If it’s out, and I’m texting someone, the performer’s lost me. If you don’t see it, we’ll, let’s just say, I make myself seen.

Despite the glaring shortcomings, the heroic chords of “High Lonesome” were an inspiring open to the set, supercharging the crowd worn out by the heat. “And Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand/I always kind of sort of wished I looked like Elvis”, vocalist/guitarist Brian Fallon sang. It’s funny, because it’s true.

On stage, he and bassist Alex Levine are a study in contrast to their counterparts, guitarist Alex Rosamilia and drummer Benny Horowitz. Fallon and Levine have adopted a nu-greaser look – short, high and tight haircuts and white tees and Dickies – while the other two deliberately eschew it for more modern stylings.

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Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem

The set was culled heavily from the band’s breakout disc, last year’s The ’59 Sound, and a generous heaping of songs from the band’s more aggressive debut disc, 2007’s Sink or Swim. The reason for this, explained Fallon, that after 50 festival shows, the band was excited to be playing another club show.

Despite the band’s lingering greenness, there were moments of brilliance. “The ’59 Sound”, propulsive guitars, huge chorus and all made standing in the heat worth it. The mixture of the stage lights, pumping fists and the room screaming at the top of it’s lungs was a classic rock show moment. Ditto for “Great Expectations”, which produced a similar, equally passionate response.

Then came the lasting image of the evening. The set closing tune “The Backseat” (which Fallon called ‘Backseats’ – Springsteen nod?). As a crowd surfer made his way towards the front, the song climaxed at the chorus, the surfer rose on his hands and knees, mere feet from Fallon, screaming along the words: “In the backseats/we just try to find some room to breathe”.

For those fleeting moments, The Gaslight Anthem’s deficiences were forgotten. Both fan and artist were just two people sharing the same experience: The pure, infectious energy of rock and roll.

Exactly how it should be.

Bands I’ve seen, in no particular order, nor complete.

1. The Hold Steady
2. Animal Collective
3. Drive-By Truckers
4. Weezer
5. The Pixies
6. The Strokes
7. Vampire Weekend
8. Fleet Foxes
9. Jay Reatard
10. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band
11. The Mars Volta
12. Le Tigre
13. Catfish Haven
14. Art Brut
15. Matt & Kim
16. The Thermals
17. Phish
18. Dave Matthews Band
19. The Decemberists
20. Blink-182
21. 311
22. The Crystal Method
23. Puddle of Mudd
24. Dashboard Confessional
25. Sparta
26. Tsunami Bomb
27. The Distillers
28. No Doubt
29. Incubus
30. Phantom Planet
31. Daniel Johnston
32. Motion City Soundtrack
33. Sherwood
34. Smoking Popes
35. The Jesus Lizard
36. Yo La Tengo
37. The Mae Shi
38. Grizzly Bear
39. Iron and Wine
40. The Flaming Lips
41. The Stooges
42. Broken Social Scene
43. Sonic Youth
44. Dinosaur Jr.
45. Sean Lennon
46. AFI
47. Hot Water Music
48. Bleeding Through
49. Sean Lennon
50. Billy Joel
51. Elton John
52. Wilco
53. Modest Mouse
54. Death Cab for Cutie
55. Booker T
56. Sean Na Na
57. The War on Drugs
58. Birds of Avalon
59. The Loved Ones
60. The Walkmen
61. Shellac
62. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
63. Bob Dylan
64. Kings of Leon
65. The Mountain Goats
66. Kaki King
67. Bon Iver
68. Franz Nicolay
69. The National
70. Radiohead
71. Bloc Party
72. Gogol Bordello
73. Yeasayer
74. Man Man
75. Be Your Own Pet
76. Black Lips

Pitchfork Music Festival 2009: Final Thoughts

Things I missed:

1. Pink Eyes’s beach-ball eating, baby doll-dismembering antics during Fucked Up‘s set. That was a massive oversight, and I regret not putting that in here earlier. As beach balls came in his direction, he’d bite them open, and even used one as a hat – sort of like a demented Chef Boyardee. Check it out:

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The baby doll came out of nowhere. I just saw it going up and down in the air, and then the next thing I know Pink Eyes had it in his hands and was tearing it’s arms and legs off. One of the arms came in our direction.

2. Ponytail. I’ve never heard this band, but through acquaintances and friends at the fest, it sounds like they’re wildly entertaining and very weird. Reports of a stage dive, too? Nice. I’m going to check out their albums.

3. Not being closer for The Jesus Lizard‘s set. Maybe I’ll get the chance when they play two shows at Metro in November right before my birthday.

Best set:

Matt and Kim. I was initially dismissive when I first heard them, but I was roped in after hearing “Lessons Learned” and “Daylight”, two totally great pop songs. I suppose the appeal (or the turn off, depending where you’re coming from) comes from the rudimentary undercurrent that runs through both their stage personas and music. The ingredients are quite simple – keys and drums – but it makes this thrilling concoction that makes you feel like part of THEIR party. I love that kind of inclusiveness in rock music. It makes it so much more fun to feel that you’re dialed into it, and that the performers are getting as much back from you as you are from them. I got a similar kind of kind of joy seeing them as I do from seeing The Hold Steady. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon.

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Worst set:

Okay, I don’t know if there was truly terrible set, but if there was a band that needed a little more time to get it together, I’d pick Cymbals Eat Guitars. I alluded to this Saturday. Their album sounds great, live, they don’t quite connect. Put ’em back in the incubator and they should be fine.

Band-I-Should-Pay-Attention-To-A-Little-Closer:

The Thermals. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know as many words as I thought I did. Runner up? Tortoise. Just kidding.

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Best picture of the weekend:

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