Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Written and visual evidence of the past month

In brief:

- Jeff Tweedy was
seen in Northampton, and a trumpet was later exchanged in Brattleboro.

- I indeed became the owner of two tickets to Phish at Fenway

- Speaking of Fenway, Paul and I saw Jacoby Ellsbury
steal home, easily the coolest thing I have ever seen at a baseball game.

- Speaking of Fenway (again), Paul and I (again) saw the the Sox beat the Blue Jays in the shortest game I have ever seen (2 hours and 13 minutes).

- Anna and I saw Vetiver. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly express my love for Vetiver. I have loved them for awhile now, since I first saw them as Gary Louris’ backing band, and after this excellent show my love has truly blossomed. Listen to the Rolling Sea- for five minutes all will seem good and chill in the world.

- Seeing Bonnie Prince Billy live far, far exceeded all of my expectations. Ready for moody and contemplative, got sloppy rocking country. Excellent.

- Jad from Radiolab came to the Museum of Science and played the Space episode in the planetarium. Does it make me a geek that I was ready to go to scalpers for tickets for this? (alas, it was not necessary)

- Finally, trips were made to Martha's Vineyard.

Maybe that was a little longer than a month...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Phishin, redux

A few months ago I tried unsuccessfully to relieve my longstanding live Phish deficiency. Predictably, that show sold out instantly and I haven't bothered to go the scalper route. But this week, Phish announced a May 31 show at Fenway Park, and I have to say I am pretty excited at this prospect. Normally I haven't been very interested in seeing concerts at Fenway, but this video changed that.

I've entered the lottery once again, we'll see if I do any better this time...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Catching up

2009 has been a very good year for music in Boston, and as my growing list on the sidebar indicates, this looks like it will be continuing on at least through the summer. Some highlights so far:

Department of Eagles
1/18/09, Brattle Theater
In attendance: Paul

Music at the Brattle Theater makes me very happy. World Music/Crash Arts has completely expanded from its focus on, well, world music, and has taken on an excellent roster of shows in the first half of 2009. They’re using venues all over Boston, but a lot of smaller shows are being booked at the Brattle (capacity 235). I’ve spent a lot of hours at the Brattle, and being able to see music there in addition to movies is a treat. Not to mention the fact that it is a great, intimate venue, and in my old age I am much more inclined to go to a seated show where I don’t have to stand around and bump into people all night.

Anyway, Department of Eagles had a very big 2008, with “In Ear Park” ending up all over end of year lists. I like but don’t love the album- some great stuff (No One Does it like You is one of my favorite songs of 2008) but overall I find it a bit homogeneous and somewhat dour. Not that I have anything against dour music (a trip through shuffle mode on my iPod could result in therapy), but this album hasn’t really resonated with me. Regardless I wanted to see this show and am glad I went- as is often the case the songs worked really well live. These guys are seriously polished (without being boring), right down to the Jim O’Rourke-y vocals. I have yet to explore far into Grizzly Bear but based on this have bought tickets to that show in June.

Andrew Bird
1/30/09, Orpheum Theater
In attendance: Fletch

This was my third time seeing Andrew Bird, with the first being an amazing show at Berklee, and the second being an underwhelming set opening for Wilco at Tanglewood last summer (though I do not blame this on him- hard to do much with a 75% empty outdoor shed and surprisingly uninterested crowd). This show may not have matched the intensity of the first Berklee show but it was close. Seeing Bird live is a unique experience, and somewhat forces you to rethink the idea of seeing live music- at times Bird and his drummer each have several different loops playing, and it is easy to completely lose track of just what is actually being played “live” at that moment. But he is just as captivating playing a pizzicato line alone with no loops as he is playing by himself but sounding like there is an entire string section behind him.

The new music came off well but Mysterious Production of Eggs remains my favorite and the songs off of that were the highlights, and got the biggest audience response (Noble Beast had officially come out a few days prior to the show, though I suppose that really doesn’t really mean much anymore). Lots more atmospherics also than the other two times I had seen him, with long shapeless and improvised pieces providing beautiful leads into his songs. The Orpheum was a huge venue jump for him, and I believe he sold it out. Next stop in Boston is at the Bank of America Pavilion, which is an excellent summer venue, but very large- I’m a bit apprehensive about how that will work for him.

Juana Molina
2/26/09, Brattle Theater
In attendance: Anna

If Andrew Bird makes you rethink what live music actually is, Juana Molina completely turns it upside down. The loop pedal and the technology accompanying it seems ubiquitous these days. I remember first seeing it way back in high school at a Bela Fleck concert and was completely blown away- I never knew such a thing existed. Bill Frisell was the first person I saw apply effects to it, like bending pitch or making his tones come out as if they were being played backward. But Molina is the first person I have seen use the loop technology less as a supplement to her playing, and more as her primary instrument. Despite having a bass player and drummer with her, this was basically a one woman show, with Molina as an acoustic guitar wielding mad scientist in front of a keyboard and various attached devices and pedals.

A lot of her songs start similarly- a repeating acoustic guitar line that gives way to complexly layered effects, both electronic and organic. What’s remarkable here is how she is incorporating all modes of sound- guitar, her voice, keyboard effects, a knock on her guitar, anything- into loops and then using them at various points throughout the song, triggered by pedals or her keyboard. The loop is not a passive device here, providing a repeating background sound- it’s basically the equivalent of having an infinite pile of musical instruments in front of you. It is fascinating and not for a moment gimmicky. This was an incredible show- I don’t think she is in the US very often, but when she is here it is not a show to be missed.

Like I said, this technology seems to be showing up in more and more shows lately. But despite my enjoyment, I’ve always had an underlying skepticism about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m by no means some kind of purist when it comes to these things, and I certainly don’t think that live music can only be played immediately in the moment. But at the same time I have a slight question about this technology and what it really means for live performance. This applies less to someone like Juana Molina, who essentially makes music built around the technology, and more to others who use it as a supplement to the live shows. And I’m quite torn on it.

On one hand, even if it is a recorded loop, it is being recorded live at a moment during the performance, and not previously. And using it effectively requires no small amount of mastery, if not completely musical, then definitely technical. Live performance has evolved continuously through the application of new technology and this is just another step.

One the other hand, maybe live performance should be just that- a live performance that is constantly reacting and adapting to the environment around it and emotion of the performer. Isn’t it kind of weird to have a performer reacting emotionally to a particular moment in a song, while in the background a loop is playing a line that reflects a completely different moment in that song? And what about the interaction with other musicians? Isn’t something being lost here?

In these dire times for our nation, aren’t these the questions that we should be asking ourselves?

Any thoughts from those of you who actually still check this blog for updates?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday in the park

DeCordova Museum, 2.16.09

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Off the wagon

It was on sale. I couldn't resist.