October 8, 2009

Live Review: REVERB Festival

Unnatural Helpers

Seattle, WA // Oct. 3, 2009

On the first cold Saturday of fall in Seattle, the only thing denser than the wind was the air of excitement for REVERB. Droves of concertgoers filled 10 Seattle venues that spread out performances spanning punk to country to jazz. Venues were also versatile, many holding shows throughout the day and catering to all ages audiences. No one was to take a back seat this night.

Murmurs could be heard that this is the best Seattle concert festival all year. It’s easy to see why. Between the admission cost ($8), number of bands (60+) and the venues seemingly perfectly spread out in location and evenly split between dive bars and rec halls, it’s the best kept secret in the Seattle concert season. The streets became crowded at night with seasoned folkies, hipsters and fans in their twilight years sipping wine and nodding to the noodling throughout the venues.

Kaylee Cole

Spokane native Kaylee Cole debuted her new band (who covered Beirut and featured new songs from her album due early next year) that featured cello and acoustic guitar to accompany her piano. She performed new songs for the first time to an audience that included her parents.

The line at the Tractor Tavern for The Maldives was so long it stretched to the next venue, Hatties Hat, where Grand Hallway's Shenandoah Davis played a solo set inside. Meanwhile. buskers, troubadours and hot dog vendors entertained crowds outside.

Coconut Coolouts

The strongest performances were scattered throughout the venues, but afterhours the Sunset Tavern was the place to be, featuring a 1-2-3 punch of crowd-pleasing performances. First up was an intoxicated Unnatural Helpers and their form of ultra loud head-bobbing punk. Next, the Coconut Coolouts husband and wife combo jammed on keyboards, drums and bass with their guitar and multi-instrumentalist bandmates. Members of the day’s other bands could be seen dancing and singing in the audience.

Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground

The evenings final performance came from seven-piece Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, who were forced to shed two band members at home to fit on the tiny Sunset stage that is about as large an apartment living room. The experimental rock troupe was stunned at the amount of people still around for their 12:35 a.m. set, after a day of singing, partying and listening.

Review and photos by Clint Goulden

Live Review: Ghost and the City

Rickshaw Stop // San Francisco, CA // Oct. 1, 2009

Deep, haunting vocals and a dark cabaret set the stage at the Rickshaw Stop, taking an unusual step out of the norm and into a Kafkaesque reality where one's mind exists in the beautiful nightmare known as Ghost and the City. The band – consisting of 10 members on keys, drums, violin, cello, bass, trombone, sax and trumpet – took the stage all dressed in black with white armbands, pulling the audience out of the trendy setting and into a distant, classical era.

The band begins to play and their sound stands apart from what is normally heard in the world of modern music, reminiscent of the intensity found in classic blues. The music created by Ghost and the City is dark and dramatic while maintaining a sense of beauty. The lead singer's vocals are raspy and serrated, reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s unsteady yet captivating style. Aiding the male singer is a female backup vocalist, chiming in every so often with an alluring jazzy and vintage-styled harmony that juxtaposes the rough and calloused style of her male counterpart.

Although the music is dark and daunting at points, the band provides the audience with breaks in the intensity by intertwining delicate string pieces with the poundings of the keys. The style of piano played on the stage reflects that of dramatic performers such as Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, in the sense that the keys are a prop for the performer as well as a musical device. Throughout the show, the music provides a complex intensity, pulling the audience into the singer’s emotions and somber memories. All in all, Ghost in the City is a band that provides more than a show, but rather a musical experience, delighting the eyes and ears with a sense of theatrical showmanship.

Review and photos by Stephanie Dotto


October 7, 2009

Audio Engineering Society Brings College Audio Students Together in Boston

Performer's Garrett Frierson chats with contest entrants in an Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones giveaway.

The 2009 Boston Area Definitive Audio Student Summit // New England Institute of Art // Sept. 26, 2009

For the third year in a row, hundreds of college audio students, faculty, administrators and members of the local audio community gathered for the Boston Area Definitive Audio Student Summit. This full day of workshops, tutorials, studio and software demos, panel discussions and presentations was held on the campus of the New England Institute of Art.

Presenters included Radiohead producer Sean Slade and engineer Matthew Ellard on getting great guitar sounds; Audio guru Dave Moulton on the importance of critical listening levels; Multi-Grammy winner and AES President Jim Anderson on the art of jazz and acoustic recording; FBI Special Technical Agent Chip McGinn on audio surveillance, forensics and how an audio student might get a job with the FBI.

Multi-Grammy winner and AES President Jim Anderson, Radiohead producer Sean Slade and AES Education Committee Vice Chair John Krivit

According to the event’s founder, AES Education Committee Vice Chairman John Krivit, “It’s always a lot of work to make this event happen but there is so much value in bringing all of the local audio students together from all of the programs throughout the Northeast. The students and faculty from all of these local colleges get to know each other and make really strong connections. The industry professionals who participate are happy to be able to reach the students in one big event and I think that they’re beginning to realize that the schools are still a very vibrant market. We’re still building studios and buying gear so they’re very happy to come and spend a Saturday talking to students.”

Studio builder David Malekpour let students take a peek at some of the world class rooms that he has built for Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keyes, Timbaland and Jay Z. Boston Music Awards Nominee Nelly Pro Tools gave a workshop on hip hop production in the studio. Sennheiser’s David Missall gave a workshop on wireless microphones and educator Barry Marshall gave a lecture on the legacy of Les Paul.


Live Review: We Barbarians

Chapman University // Orange County, CA // Sept. 29, 2009

It’s not just another typical Tuesday night at Chapman University. Right in front of the campus radio station, in the basement of the most central dorm building, the Long Beach band We Barbarians are preparing to play an hour-long set in lieu of the usual Tuesday night open mic. As students wander in, the trio starts off their set with a mellow, keyboard-strong track, “White,” revealing hints of The Verve and Radiohead as influences.

The crowd slowly grows and the music swells accordingly. Live, We Barbarians present an entrancing and heavy sound, which bleeds each song into the next. The men are shy and hardly face the audience as they each have a habit of closing their eyes and melting into their instrument. From here, it's hard to tell which song is which. Even with the research I did on their MySpace, their music sounds different live. It is a more natural and organic sound that the band produces and I speculate that they add new elements in the show; whatever happens right at that moment. It is very calming show and well-performed. It's good to play college shows because the biggest benefit is gathering new fans. Students who don’t even know that there is a show going on become supporters of the band, due to a good experience and enticing music. We Barbarians know this fact, and easily capitalize on their wealth of interested students and intimate audience.

-Review and photos by Sasha Patpatia


Live Review: The N.E.C., Living Rooms and Roman Photos

529 // East Atlanta, GA // Sept. 21, 2009

A legendary rainstorm battered Atlanta on the night of the show. It was catastrophic, inasmuch as the city’s recent severe drought officially ended in a flash flood. Despite the torrential downpour throughout the day, the thunder and lighting subsided just long enough for Double Phantom Records’ three bands being showcased to draw a crowd and dominate their ears. Packed into the venue and nowhere else to go, the crowd looked to Roman Photos first to alleviate the stir-crazy vibe permeating throughout the club.

Roman Photo’s unique brand of post-punk and electronica set an early funky tone. The heavy bass lines and layered synths created an ambient, yet oddly melodic backdrop to the sparse, shouting and somewhat preachy vocals. The bass player’s sporadic yelps into the microphone at times contributed to the art façade the band oozed on stage. At one point during their set the band even distributed various percussion instruments to the crowd – who at that point were more than happy to oblige them with their participation. Upon the completion of their set I couldn’t help but wonder how the band would sound if given time to mature. Their sound was definitely innovative and truly undefined, thus making me anxious to see what these gentlemen might come up with the next time I hear them. And there most definitely will be a next time.

Living Rooms continued the trend of the night as a band comprised mostly of members playing synthesizers or electric gadgets. Nonetheless, I found myself taken back and the music critic in me knocked down a peg or two. When the three gentlemen started to play it was slow, ambient and didn’t exactly spark my attention. I started to walk away and ignore it – shamefully searching for a spare cigarette to bum from a friend. Then as I was walking to the front door the drum machine and guitar player kicked in. I was shocked. The payoff, climax or peak – whatever you want to call it – Living Rooms created was staggering. The post-rock crescendo the band builds are masterfully executed, and I found myself putting the cigarette behind my ear and anxiously listening to the rest of their set. I judged them before they even finished a song, and now I’m ashamed because of it. Living Room was fresh, artistic and dramatic, but most of all the sort of serendipity that makes good shows great.

After the “art kids” finished their respective sets, rock 'n' roll came down just like the monsoon outside when The N.E.C. took the stage. The traditional form of a drummer, two guitarists and a bass player returned to the 529, but it played a set that was just as experimental and unique as the bands that preceded them. The loud tremolo-picking guitars created a wall of sound that was only accentuated by the hard and jarring rhythm section. The psychedelic vocals gave way to the more shoegaze-like atmospheric tones the instruments created, albeit in a manner similar to putting your head against a speaker on full volume while in the midst of a euphoric acid trip. The simple roots of their songs come out of the amps as chaotic, primal and blood-thirsty rites of passage and if you survived them, they welcomed you into the tribe with the still-dripping flesh of your enemies. The N.E.C’s songs were brutal, yet somehow still gave you the impression like they were leading you somewhere and trying to give you direction – who the fuck knows where – but all I could imagine was listening to a warlord lead his troops into battle. The set ended with a cacophony of noise and dramatic guitar detuning. It was almost as if the militaristic rape of your ears was actually the systematic destruction and rehabilitation of your medulla oblongata. I left feeling as if I’d been reprogrammed to pray, obey and of course kill. It was simply awesome. This band has quickly earned a reputation as one of the best bands in the city, and after tonight it's been totally legitimized in my mind.
For more information, visit.

-Review and video by Albert Opraseuth


October 6, 2009

Live Review: Mark Sandman Memorial Concert

The Middle East Downstairs // Cambridge, MA // Sept. 27, 2009

Elastic Waste Band

Not even Mother Nature could put a damper on the festivities that were the Mark Sandman Memorial Concert. Moved to The Middle East Downstairs due to the rain, the concert, which consisted of performances by legendary Boston music heavy-hitters, was everything but ordinary. The mood was quite celebratory, as onlookers (some with their children on their shoulders) danced and sung along as they paid tribute to the late Mark Sandman.

Elastic Waste Band

Sandman, a Boston native and creative genius whose band Morphine took Massachusetts, and later the country, by storm, frequented the Middle East as a performer – so it seemed only fitting that the show take place there. Artists like The Elastic Waste Band and Orchestra Morphine paid great homage to Sandman, but Treat Her Right – Sandman's pre-Morphine project – overwhelmed the crowd with their energy, fast paced rhythms and overall feel good vibe. The highlight of their set had to be “I Think She Likes Me,” a classic soulful tune that just jumped to life onstage.

Treat Her Right

Throughout the sets, musicians reminded the crowd of the reason why they were there – to recognize and pay respect to the man who paved the way for so many wonderful and talented artists right here in Boston. Not only was he a musician, he was a writer, a promoter and a pillar in the Boston music scene. And at the memorial concert, one thing was made beautifully clear: that his work and spirit still lives on in not only former friends and bandmates, but in the community he inspired as well.

-Words and photos by Candace McDuffie

Live Review: Heart Shaped Hate // Lord of the Yum Yum // Aleks and the Drummer // Brilliant Pebbles

Subterranean // Chicago, IL // Sept. 26, 2009

Avant-garde lineups have a tendency to plummet so far into the depths of the absurd that they lose any sort of affect and blunder off into irrelevance. Thankfully, this show ventured into the avant-garde realm and came out the other side with a wide range of resonance, entertainment and overall awesomeness. It's not easy to round up four different acts that bend genre in such distinct manners for one evening. Mad props, booking department.

Heart Shaped Hate held nothing back, blasting off the night with a hard and fast electropunk. It is possible that no two women have made more noise – in a Hannah Montana minidress, main vocalist Natali pounded away on synth while yelping and growling with impressive range. Drummer Jenna managed to spit out vocals as well, while jackhammering at the kit.

Descending from the stage's spiral staircase in disguise, the Lord of the Yum Yum introduced himself as his own roadie, played a song on a cardboard "guitar," and then hid beneath a red curtain only to reemerge as "himself." I had seen the good Lord perform at a silent film showing at the University of Chicago, but here he allowed himself to expand his act, which straddles the line between music and performance art. Aided only by a sampler (foot-operated) and a few microphones, Yum Yum built layer upon layer of sound in bizarre and hilarious compositions, all the while jittering around the stage and the audience. He finished with an impressively complex rendition of "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen, interspersed with a reenactment of a childhood field trip to the aquarium, in which an encounter with the shark-feeding diver turned quickly macabre.

Aleks and the Drummer

Aleks and the Drummer – comprising, quite literally, only Aleks Andra Tomaszewska on keyboards and vocals and Deric Criss on drums – drew the evening deeply into the ethereal. Tomaszewska demonstrated some of the most adept vocalization I've ever witnessed on the scene. Her classically styled alto arced over fast beats and synth that approached the resonance of a cathedral organ. If heaven had dance clubs, these two would headline. You'd be hard-pressed to find an act more haunting, bizarre and startlingly gorgeous all at once.

Brilliant Pebbles

Armed with similarly Polish frontwoman Monika Bukowska – cousin to Tomaszewska, in fact – Brilliant Pebbles exploded onstage in an onslaught of glitter, sequins and absurdity. Bukowska sadly lost her strobe light ring in the midst of dancing about the stage, but the band never lost momentum. With glam-rock performance sensibilities, they performed genre-queer tracks off their just-released first record. In celebration of the release, they gifted their audience with Beanie Babies and ball-pit balls, tossed into the air like confetti. It seems in many ways Brilliant Pebbles has perfected absurdity. Not the alienating kind, but rather a colorful, danceable, euphoric absurdity – absurdity with blue eyeliner and mouse ears.

-Review and photos by Sasha Geffen

October 5, 2009

New records in the office today

Terminal Lovers- As Eyes Burn Clean
Dead Cats Dead Rats- Riff
CF Donohoe- Still Space for Ghosts
Mason Daring- Mason Daring
The Vacant Lots- According to the Gospel
The Sun Lee Sunbeam- Beneath the Burning Sky
The Prime Ministers- Compromiser
Knife- The Decade of Decadence
Knife- 2000 Yard Stare
The Lights Out- Color Machine
I Was Totally Destroying It- Horror Vacui
Automatic Moonlight- Scared to Death of Dying
Harken the Hands Askew- Thou
Kicksville- The Singles Season 2
Larry Grimes- Concrete Statue
Audrey Malone and Michael Evans- A Holiday to Remember
WAZ- These Bright Lights
Miss Tess- Darling, Oh Darling
The Bynars- Party All Nite

Live Review: Go, Julia Klee, Elsinore, Rego


Beat Kitchen // Chicago, IL // Sept. 11, 2009

Self-amused and endearingly awkward, Go opened the evening at Belmont's murkily lit Beat Kitchen. "We're a concept band without a concept," they quipped. "If you have any ideas, let us know." They kicked off the performance with a hypnotic instrumental opus, layering chords and distortion over simple drum beats. Swapping instruments entirely for each song, Go rounded out their set with fairly standard low-fi fare. One song was purportedly written just before showtime. They finished off the set by covering Neutral Milk Hotel, thankfully avoiding the over-covered “Aeroplane” and playing “Where You're Find Me Now,” off of the under-appreciated On Avery Island.

Songwriter Julia Klee followed with a slow vocal and keyboard intro before being joined by her five-piece outfit, filling out the stage to near maximum capacity. Though the only piano at her disposal was a Yamaha synth, Klee and her bandmates achieved a lovely organic sound, largely thanks to the upright bass played with a near-sexual enthusiasm. I have never seen anyone enjoy an upright bass the way Klee's bassist does – it was perhaps the highlight of their performance. The outfit lingered somewhere between alt-country and folk rock, ranging in mood from melancholia to charming, jambly fun worthy of larger dance halls.

The night's aesthetic turned slightly to the bizarre with Elsinore. Lead singer and guitarist Ryan Groff could be mistaken for an indie rock Weird Al Yankovic. Despite hailing from Champaign, Ill., Groff mysteriously sang with an English, or at least mid-Atlantic accent while the band pounded out tunes reminiscent of early Blur. Midwestern Brit-rock? Sure, why not. The band had the magnificent stage presence to pull it off. Groff displayed perhaps the most impressive set of expressions I have ever seen on a singer – his face performed elastic feats previously unknown to humankind. His mouth might actually be capable of stretching wider than his skull. It was like watching an extremely talented claymation artist animate a human in real life. It was hypnotic. I couldn't look away. Groff's vocal range was nearly as impressive as his emotive range – he swerved in and out of falsetto impeccably, sounding like a happier Matt Bellamy of Muse.

Lastly, a redressed Go (ha! half of REGO! I get it!) reappeared onstage along with Rebecca Rego and the rest of the band, all in black tie. Multi-instrumentalist Mike P. played the role of emcee and introduced everybody, then proceeded to bounce around the stage playing anything that wasn't already being played. Rego's country/folk rock compositions took a harder edge when expanded to the stage. She revealed a vocal range that included rough shouts as well as the capable crooning that appears on the studio album, From the Royal Arcade. In addition to the tracks off the record, REGO debuted several songs too new to have been recorded. They played a prolonged yet thoroughly energetic set, complete with a whistle-off between Mikey B. and Mike P. (capable whistlers both). With her producer and several friends from in and out of town joining her onstage, Rego finished the evening poignantly with abundant thank-yous to her personal and professional support.

-Review and photos by Sasha Geffen


Live Review: Ra Ra Riot

Emo’s // Austin, TX // Sept. 24, 2009

A riot recently ensued in downtown Austin, but not one of catastrophic proportions – not even close. Rather, it was a riot of mellifluous strings keys and vocals. The pop symphony that Ra Ra Riot brings to their live audiences is rivaled by none; they deliver sound qualities that have yet to even meet imitation. The quintet operates smoothly in mutually artful musicianship as they transition from song to song with the same fierce vigor infused into each tune on the setlist.

Ra Ra Riot has found critical acclaim since the release of their freshman album, The Rhumb Line, that dropped just a little over a year ago. After seeing them live it is evident why their particular brand of baroque pop has gained momentum. A resonant rendition of “Suspended in Gaffa” was the first song to really speak to me with Mathieu Santos’ prominent bass line powering forward over Rebecca Zeller’s delicate violin. “Suspended in Gaffa” is a mellow tune, but Ra Ra Riot effortlessly morphed to upbeat pop with the much more guitar-centric “Each Year.” Zeller and Alexandra Lawn’s strings could have afforded a bit more sound on this tune, but overall it was performed poetically as each member continued to share the stage in a symbiotic ballet of sound.

Ra Ra Riot has been dubbed “intense” by more than one media outlet and after seeing them live I’d have to whole heartedly concur with that appraisal. Intense could apply not only to the instrumentation itself but also the stage presence of the band as a whole. They pour themselves into the music, as they seem to shut out everything but the emotive pop that they are making together – like a melodic sonnet to one another. Alexandra Lawn is especially passionate as she literally throws herself into her cello, with hair sweeping through the air from both her head and her bow, one with her instrument, her band, and her music – it’s simply stunning.

Ra Ra Riot surprised me by throwing the popular “Can You Tell” in to the dead middle of their set list. They continued to pull new tricks from their sleeves and deviated from their characteristic intensity for a bit – to show they don’t take themselves too seriously – with the synthed-out throwback to '80s electronica. “Too Too Too Fast.” Ra Ra Riot saved hits like “Ghost Under Rocks” until near the end of their set and even stuck around for an encore after the crowd began to thin, playing to the end with no less enthusiasm for their music than in any of the songs before. In a word: breathtaking.

-By Tara Lacey; photos by Michelle Waggoner

Live Review: Goosepimp Orchestra, Danny Bedrosian & Secret Army

Goosepimp Orchestra

The Brewery // Lowell, MA // Sept. 9, 2009

It’s a warm Thursday night in Lowell, Mass. A bar close to the UMASS campus called The Brewery lights up the street faintly and people dot the sidewalk with their cigarettes. Tonight, Boston’s Goosepimp Orchestra is opening up for Danny Bedrosian & Secret Army, a band of George Clinton misfits led by P-Funk keyboardist Danny Bedrosian.

The stage is open and low to the ground, an inviting nod toward the expansive dance floor and seating area that extends into the back of the bar.

Goosepimp had just started their set as I walked in, and a heavy layer of funk had already descended upon the audience. Maybe it was their appearance – from tagged up jumpsuits, to skunk hats, to neon skirts, tie-dye and pajama pants – GPO was in rare form as they drowned the audience in rainbow lights and chaotically designed funk-downs.

Goosepimp Orchestra

Goosepimp’s full lineup included Dave Pelletier on bass, Adam Pelletier on guitar, Bob Greel on percussion, Phil Reese on keys, Joe Calabrese on drums, Jon Albertelly on trumpet, Josh Filgate on trombone, Seth Bailin on saxophone and Mike Cantor leading the gang on guitar.

Everyone was full of energy tonight, and Goosepimp utilized every ounce of it. In sweat-drenched unison they were forthright with their solos, and remained tight and loud throughout their set. In a smashup of garb and styles, GPO combined psychedelic guitar riffs with a synthetic funk that seems to get better every time I see them play. In so many words, this band has unbeatable confidence in their stage presence and a unique “get up and freak out” style that promotes one hell of a good time.

Danny Bedrosian & Secret Army

When Danny Bedrosian & Secret Army went on, I realized that tonight’s theme had to be a certain psycha-funk virtuosity. There was something so incredibly sexy about the reserve in bass player Lige Curry, the gyrations of Danny Bedrosian, and the popping knees and bopping bums of backup vocalists Teresa Jimenez and Kendra Foster.

They had the heavy and tight demeanor evident in most funk or rock music, but successfully combined elements of jazz-fusion, hip-hop and soul with surprising eloquence. From drawn out harmonic vocals, to the electric excursions of guitarist Marc Munoz (during which he split open his finger on stage and continued to play with unrelenting force), there was an unquestionable amount of energy. At times I found it hard to breath without wailing, which goes to show that the driving force behind this band’s groove is the power and precision that they bring to the stage. They translate passion beautifully.

It’s always special, albeit cliché, when you feel as if you’re having a religious experience during a live set and you haven’t taken any drugs. As they played – all closed eyes, open mouthed and tiptoed slithering and grooving – I thought the band would cause the entire bar to lift up and out of Lowell, just to plop down in George Clinton’s backyard (whatever that might look like!). Each member seems like a methodological extension of the music, bound together hot and heavy in a sensual land of soul and funk.

Both Goosepimp Orchestra and Danny Bedrosian & Secret Army have new CD’s out. I urge you to take a listen or catch a local show. You won’t regret it.

-Words by Amanda Macchia; photos by Lisa Gagne