September 25, 2009

Live Review: Brighton, MA

Pritzker Pavilion // Chicago, IL // Sept. 9, 2009

To the east-coast familiar, Brighton, MA's chosen moniker may mislead – almost nothing in their demeanor suggests the portion of Boston around Boston College and all the "Masshole" packed within it. It's probably an unintentional irony that these five guys instead embody the quintessential Midwestern calm in music and stage presence alike. As I wandered into the Pritzker Pavilion midway through an exceptionally nice Wednesday, I got the sensation that the size of the venue dwarfed band and their audience alike. On the inside, the stage resembles the Boston Hatch Shell – giant panels of wood arcing in around the musicians. This being Chicago though, and in need of 10 times the shine of Boston, enormous leaves of metal curl out from the mouth of the stage, creating an impressive abstract structure when seen from afar.

On further approach, however, the sense that the venue marginalized the band diminished. The closer I got, the less
it felt like I was attending a show at a huge venue and the more it felt like I was just visiting five particularly talented musician friends on a campus green. The band seemed completely at ease with their surroundings, pleased with the opportunity just to play music for fun. Lead vocalist Matt Kerstein thanked the audience for taking their lunch break, day off or whatever to come and see them play. The set could only last about an hour, he said, so the band intended to bring their equipment over to the grass of Millennium Park and continue playing until security kicked them out. Hey, stages are just technicalities.

Singing over the top of a very pretty Martin acoustic, Kerstein stretched his lyrics around a more relaxed version of the kind of yelpy vocalization most famously heard in Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction. The band's sound as a whole more resembles that of an alternate-universe Wilco wherein Jeff Tweedy sheds some of his ineffable pathos and sings a good deal more loudly. Jim Tuerk and Joe Darnaby accompanied Kerstein's rhythm acoustic on an SG and a 12-string, while Jon Ozaksut and Sam Koentopp finished up the monosyllabic first name roster with bass and drums, respectively. No fancy antics could be seen, just rock-solid instrumentation. Brighton, MA came across as the kind of band too confident in their music for any kind of gimmick, a little too mature for the hipster bandwagon, very comfortable and very sincere. In each refrain, Kerstein spun lyrical maxims out to the audience – "everybody wants to be sunblinded," and "you take what you can from defeat,” for example.

And you take the philosophy at face value because really you're just sitting on the quads with your old buddy, and you know he means it.

Throughout the show, Kerstein promoted the band's new live set (recorded at Schubas) now available for free download at their website. I'll second the plug: the URL's, and the release features six awesome songs for free )infinite value!).

-Review and photos by Sasha Geffen

Live Review: Heartless Bastards

Sam's Burger Joint // San Antonio, TX // Sept. 8, 2009

It's an anomaly for me to go into a show knowing very little about a band, familiar with only a couple of songs, and then find myself completely blown away by the sound crescendo-ing into my ears. Heartless Bastards won over one more fan when frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom opened up her mouth and enveloped the room in her fierce, edgy vocals over drummer Dave Colvin’s infectious beats. It was as if Heartless Bastards' music was pulsing through my veins and I was one with their sound rather than it simply delighting my ear drums.

My affinity for this band was instantaneous, which is also rare, and from the very first song Heartless Bastards had me in the grip of their intrepid sound. Their bluesy jams are evocative of a smoke-filled room littered with lonely hearts and the soul in Wennerstrom’s vocals was all that could soothe that smoke and solitude away. Her voice could be described as the vocal velvet of Freddie Mercury meets the grime of Janis Joplin. Wennerstrom's voice was like a tonic to the intimate weeknight crowd with her lyric reminder that the unknown can be sweet in her acoustic rendition of “Be So Happy.”

Heatless Bastards’ deliver classic blues with a modern twist, characterized by superlative instrumentation that emphasizes Wennerstrom’s vocal strength over jagged guitar riffs. The music is not secondary to her snarling vocal power – it manages to speak for itself in intermittent, gnarly guitar solos.

“The Mountain” solidified my newfound appreciation for the band. This anthem will send chills down your spine when you hear – in the flesh – the emotive steel guitar over Wennerstrom’s raspy crooning. The album simply cannot do the Bastards’ raw talent and explosive sound justice.

-Review and photo by Tara Lacey

Live Review: Extraordinary Contraptions

The Hyatt // Atlanta, GA // Sept. 4, 2009

“From a time that never was” comes a quartet dressed in what appears to be a cross between Victorian styles of the past and fictional technology and inventions. The Extraordinary Contraptions follow the dress code of steampunk. At their appearance at DragonCon this year, they were covered in brass gears and earth tones, and so was the crowd.

Picture – if you can – geeks and sci-fi freaks, all fans of varying literature and films, filling the Hanover room at the Hyatt hotel for a steampunk fashion show followed by an all-acoustic set by The Extraordinary Contraptions.

More than booze fueled the show as (mad) Professor Dimitri von Stadberg's upright bass powered through an acoustic set fed through a PA. The rest of the band included a time traveler and a gentleman explorer. Their sound toppled over amazing creatures boogieing with individualistic style. Everything from ballroom dancing to a sort of rave seizure caught my eyes. Songs included “Kiss From a Girl,” to a waltz called “For You From Me.”

All in all, the sound could have been better and the sound guys may not have known exactly which instruments plugged into which outlets, but the passion and pure fun of The Extraordinary Contraptions shined through like a light escaping a wormhole. Hearing the female vocals of keyboardist Sephora Bostwick mixed with Aelus Kristof von Stadberg's guitar added a jazzy feel to otherwise rocking rhythms. I wouldn't get lost trying to categorize this group as any form of “punk,” except in the purest sentiment of doing exactly what they want to do and not caring where to fit in for labeling.

The fast-paced “Burn” opened with a gothic groove with industrial-feeling vocals, tempered by bass licks reminiscent of the guitar in Heart's “Crazy on You.” Yes, this mix of inspired rock left the crowd feeling accepted in the growing steampunk culture of Atlanta within the safety of its fantasy festival.

-Review and photo by Ellen Eldridge

September 24, 2009

New records we got in the office today

Beep! – You Are Special, You Are a Special Friend
The Points North – I Saw Across the Sound
I, Crime – Dove Skin Gloves
The Summer Pledge – You Are You
Noman – Broadcast
Junk Culture – West Coast EP
Paper Bird – Anything Nameless and Joymaking
Paper Bird – A Sky Underground
Big Bang TV – Big Bang TV
Drakkar Sauna – 20009
TagYerit – Shimmer
Conni St. Pierre – Mountain Spirits
Drivin N Cryin – Great American Bubble Factory
Notorious C.O.O. – Trap Game

International Acoustic Music Awards accepting applications now

Acoustic artists everywhere can now apply for the sixth annual International Acoustic Music Awards. The award promotes excellence in music involving the acoustic guitar. All you need to do to enter is mail an entry form along with an original CD, or do it electronically. There are eight different categories such as Folk/Americana Roots, Best Group/Duo, and Instrumental. The overall top winner will win $11,000, including radio promotion on 250 radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. The deadline is November 9.

Live Review: Joe Jack Talcum, The Bassturd, Samuel Locke Ward vs. Darren Brown and The Country Doctors

Joe Jack Talcum

The Middle East Upstairs
Boston, MA
Sept. 7, 2009

Joe Jack Talcum is the voice of the unrecognized generation within every generation, for those who see the hypocrisies of the world and find ways to smile within them; a minstrel for the young at heart. His career began with the creation of The Dead Milkmen and has spanned two and a half decades. He has made music that is at times irreverent and funny, at times slow and touching, and often a blend that leaves you smiling and feeling a bit lighter than you were several minutes before. His acoustic solo tours are a showcase of his songwriting, bringing to forefront his deceptively simple lyrics and a performance that draws you in and keeps you hidden from the world just long enough to see its colors a little clearer when you emerge.

Joining Joe on this tour were Samuel Lock Ward vs. Daren Brown and The Bassturd, two acts that battle the difficulties of having only one or two people on stage with audio/visual napalm.

Samuel Locke Ward vs. Daren Brown came on stage with the two aforementioned gentlemen: one with guitar and one with a table of electronics. Blasting through a set of garage rock fuzz, synthesizer processing and drum sample madness, they showed the crowd how noisy two men with gusto can be. Finding ways to mix guitar solos with backwards playing in a rock setting would seem hard if not for the intensity and focus the duo played with. Prolific in writing and recording, their merch table was covered with albums made within the past several years.

The Bassturd is Dan Butler, a homemade table of lights and electronics, and one hell of a show. He had the house turn all the lights off, then took the stage wearing copious amounts of plastic, LED-lighted jewelry. As he opened up his set with the comical, hip-hop party jam "Rhinestone your Nuts," his table lit up with multi-colored spinning balls, Christmas lights and lighted toys that he utilized creatively throughout the set. He controlled the Christmas lights with foot-switches, changing his lighting to any of the primary colors at will, as well as turning the lights off or into mesmerizing, sparkling patterns that he would put on and dance around. At one point he took a spinning light on top of a cordless mic and went trekking through the crowd. The rest of the set experimented with the possibilities of electronica: synthy bounce tunes, to droning pads, to some heavier, lower frequency jams. He sang, rapped and did a spot-on country twang jingle. Lyrically, he was funny and playful, with song topics ranging from dead rock stars to banks and beyond. For his ending number, he asked the crowd to choose between another party jam he had ready, or if he should make up a song on the spot using topics the crowd gave him. After a soulful tune about Senate roller derby, he turned off the lights.

After a quick removal of the lighted table, Joe Jack Talcum took the stage in front of a crowd of true believers. Gathered here were the people who connect with Talcum's obscure clarity and sense of humor, those who “get it.” His set began slowly, but picked up energy as it progressed, mixing his solo work with songs written with The Dead Milkmen, to the delight of the crowd. Familiar songs became much more intimate without a full band, guitar solos replaced by harmonica melodies, and back-up singing done by the audience. Ever personable, he talked casually with the crowd, playing a requested song and a special rendition of “Labor Day,” in observance of the holiday everyone not on tour got off. Highlights of his set included "Watching Scotty Die," "Jellyfish Heaven," and the ever-popular "Methodist Coloring Book." Informed that he only had time for one more song, he announced that he would do his “upbeat closing number” titled "Life is Shit." Ending the summer in a dark room singing along with Joe Jack Talcum, it was easy to forget how true those words can be.

-Review and photo by Garrett Frierson

Live Review: Forrest Day, Dizzy Balloon, Dublin & the Hip Hop Medicine Band, and Axia

Forrest Day

The Downtown Brew
San Louis Obispo
Aug. 29, 2009

This was the last date of the “Raise a Glass Tour,” which consisted of Forrest Day and Dizzy Balloon, but this particular show also featured Dublin & the Hip Hop Medicine Band and local band Axia. All the other bands hail from the San Francisco Bay Area scene.

Dizzy Balloon

Dizzy Balloon started off the show with their poppy, clap-your-hands-music. It was a very positive, high energy show. Lead singer Petros was very entertaining and theatrical. Dublin & the Hip Hop Medicine Band followed, which was a darker, sublime elixir – merging a four-piece orchestra with well-delivered rhymes. The local band, Axia, soon started shredding and rocking the crowd out with wailing vocals and metal riffs. They definitely had a good, loyal, local crowd. Forrest Day closed down the place with their melodic complexities, rocking screams and circus hip-hop beats. The crowd went nuts when they took the stage. It was an all-ages show, and the underage crowd really added to the hysteria. Forrest mentioned after, “It was awesome, and great to see our first crowd surf.”


This was an amazing set to see as I have never witnessed such a diverse group of entertainers on the same bill. If you get a chance to check out any one of these bands, I wouldn’t pass it up.


-Review and photos by Rosalyn Lee

September 23, 2009

New records we got in the office today

Spitzer Space Telescope – Spitzer Space Telescope
The Good Graces – Bring on the Tambourines!

September 22, 2009

Live Review: 7th Annual Southern Coastal & Bluegrass Festival

Live Review: 7th Annual Southern Coastal & Bluegrass Festival
Kure Beach, NC // Sept. 19–20, 2009

Kure Beach is a long way from the mountains of North Carolina, perhaps even for a bluegrass festival on the retired Fort Fisher Air Force Base. But during the first day of the festival, the base couldn’t have been more proper for settling down to listen to music performed from 10 a.m. To 8 p.m. Situated on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the smell of funnel cakes and Greek food permeated the air while parents and kids played and danced (mostly the kids danced that afternoon it seemed) in the sunshine. A few hippie chicks at the front spun around with hula hoops as they slow danced with themselves.

Amongst the cypress and live oak trees, music echoed and reverberated, giving it an ethereal and long-lost quality. The afternoon was rich with music that sounded from a period long gone. Many of the performers performed dual sets throughout the day. Even conversations performers had with the crowd between songs felt friendly and unfamiliar as many performers hardly speak or address an audience at shows. It made the whole affair more welcoming as they spoke – telling stories about songs, about themselves and engaging the crowd who were comfortably seated in the comfort of lawn chairs and holding cold bottles of beer.

By late afternoon Ken Scoggins & Miller’s Creek took on their second set of the day and bridged humorous songs with gospel ones. Ken spoke at length about not wanting to perform a song about a possum, asking the crowd not to clap because it would only encourage Gentleman Bill Scoggins to play it more. It was all in jest, but as Bill stepped to the microphone all the fuss made sense as he sang about a “possum in the headlights tonight.”

Next, A Deeper Shade of Blue tore through a banjo heavy set. At one point lead guitarist and singer Troy Pope popped a string and changed it faster than a pit crew could change a tire. To his left, banjo player Jim Fraley played feverishly, his eyes tearing to the right watching for Pope to jump back in. The band was pure fun and energy, the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a bluegrass band, especially on the raucous and high flying “Bluegrass to the Bone.”

Closing out the night was The Wells Family, comprised of mother Debi; her three daughters, Eden, Jade and Sara; and bass player Philip Bishop. They were a surprise and change of pace, melding country harmonies from separate eras with strong acoustic music. When singing together it was blissful, beatific and tempered. Jade sang with fiery strength, with the heart and soul of a woman in love or a woman scorned. Eden’s violin playing matched her timber, dolling out delicate and hardened sounds. As the sun disappeared into night the band stood out much more as they began to play “You go, I’ll stay.” It was quite a sight to see and hear a mother and her daughters playing such beautiful music and a fine place in the world to hear it.

-Review and photos by Brian Tucker

September 21, 2009

New records in the office today

Lexi Street- Champagne Promises
Mike Zito- Pearl River
Go Time!- Speak
Elba- Don’t Be Discouraged, Little Sparrow
The Humms- Are You Dead?
iLa Mawana- iLa Mawana
Ceili Rain- I Made Lemonade
Christopher Ames- Everyday With You
The Only Sons- Steel Hearts
StreightAngular- After and Before
Thayer Sarrano- King
Sea Wolf- White Water, White Bloom
CoCoComa- Things Are Not All Right
Blood Thirsty Panda!!!- Hooray for Genocide
We Are the Willows- A Collection of Sounds and Something Like the Plague
Wesley Dysart- Bigger on the Inside
Jessie Torrisi- Bruler Bruler
Sacha Sacket- Hermitage
Bone Cave Ballet- Bone Cave Ballet EP
Zera Vaughan- The New Seed
SwampDaWamp- Rock This Country
Mass Fiction- Genre
The Drool Brothers- Ajax Muffler
Rolling Nowhere- The Lonesome EP
Jeffree Star- Beauty Killer
Bucfifdeybak- Suite 201