Music, etc.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Daniel Johnston at Warsaw- 5.15.07

Last night, standing up close to one of the best and most inspirational songwriters of all time, I realized that there was nothing to fear in life. If only for a brief moment, I felt a part of the collective unconscious; felt part of something larger than myself. Although he did not play any songs off of "Don't Be Scared," the same message rung through on each tune.

Daniel looked very good on stage. His medication, which makes him shake, also made him very personable and calm on stage. He told a few jokes (none of them anti-semitic) and even mentioned how he got into trouble for some comments he made recently. Also, he was very personal with the audience, expressing his worries on growing old and his wanting for a scientific agent to extend life. "I think this is the generation who wants to live forever," Daniel said; completely serious, completely hilarious.

Daniel painted beautiful songs of universal pain, but also universal happiness. He started the night with an acoustic guitar, by himself at first and then an old buddy (I don't remember the name). They played some classics, including "Do You Really Love Me?," "Silly Love," and the first track off of his first tape, "Grievances," which he has not played in quite some time. It was truely a special moment to be a part of.

After his friend played with him, a band came out and backed him up. He seemed really into the rock n' roll vibe and was obviously having a great time playing with a full band. The continued with more classics, "Walking the Cow," "Rock & Roll/EGA," and "Speeding Motorcycle." I was only really into the band for "Speeding Motorcycle," but for the most part, they acted like it was their concert instead of Daniel's, which was not cool.

There were times when you could tell he wanted them to stop playing, but they continued. The drummer was very good though and he seemed to really appericiate Daniel. After Daniel left, the drummer was off, meanwhile the rest of the band recieved the applause meant for Daniel. All in all though, Daniel really enjoyed playing with the band, so I can't get too angry at them.

After the band headed off, Daniel came back on stage for a beatiful rendition of "True Love Will Find You in the End." It was a really special moment and brought tears to my eyes. Immediatly after his second encore of "Devil Town (sing-a-long)," he went to the Warsaw food section and got himelf a plate. A crowd of people stood and stared at him while he was seemingly unaware that his prescence made any difference. My friend was able to tell him what a great show it was and even managed to get a hand shake.

I have no idea what he has planned for tonight, but after the energy and prescence he had last night, it should be an amazing show. I'm also expecting to see come celebrities, being part of the Highline Festival and all. I'll post the review for that one tommorow.

Grievances (From "Songs of Pain")

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Ever since 2004's "Spider-Man 2," (a film I consider to be the greatest comic-book movie ever made and one of the best movies so far this decade) left me on the edge of my seat, I've been long anticipating the next installment in the series.

I'm still decideing if the movie was as good as I thought it was or if I just went into it with such high expectations that I didn't want to let myself down. After some though, though, I recoginze that it is a mix of both, but mainly the part about it being a great movie.

I am not a comic book guy. I didn't watch this movie, nor any other Spiderman, and criticize it for differences to the comic book. I don't care that they didn't call Venom by his name and rather had him wander around aimlessly. I don't care that Stan Lee makes a cameo. If you want to read the comic, more power to you, but don't expect the same plots to pan out on the big screen. Think of it as a movie, rather than as a comic-book movie. As a movie, this is the most entertaining 2 hours I have spent in a theater in quite some time.

"Spider-Man 3" is not your sit down, munch popcorn and be mindlessly humorored kind of entertainment, though. Sam Raimi does an excellent job to furthur continue the saga of Peter and Mary Jane. Once again, not being a comic book guy, I don't care especially much about the villians and I am most concerned with the webed hero an his girl. Luckily for me (but not so much the comic-book people), this seems to be Raimi's approach too.

The film also has a certain sense of humor that was lacing in the first two installments. The montage of newly dressed, fly, Peter Parker is pretty hilarious. The Bruce Campbell cameo is also very funny. My complaint about the scene though is that they threw Bruce in there strictly because they knew he would draw a crowd reaction. If they put him as a character that would have been good, even with Bruce playing him, they could have doubled the awesomeness potential.

Seriously, Toby Maguire hit a "god damn" home run with this movie. I am even going to go as far as to say that he should be nominated for best actor when it comes time for Oscar season. Spiderman is at a dark period of his life and Maguire portrays this cross roads perfectly. He doesn't overact the drama, but rather he uses subtle facial expressions to convey his growing frustrations about being a hero.

Problems at work and a handful of evil villians are ruining Spidermans already depleting relationship with the woman he loves. There are even instances, and this is the first time in the entire series that I have noticed, that you are not rooting for Spidy. There are moments, when in confusion, he does some pretty horrible things. Toby plays Spiderman better than I could ever think possible. And since Raimi deides to focus mainly on the inner struggles of the hero, Maguire has a lot to work with.

All of the focus on plot, though, did not take away from the films stunning visuals. The fight scenes look absolutely spectacular. The villians are plentiful and Spiderman seems to finally have the odds stacked aginst him. A situation like that definatly will not help any problems at home.

Along with the Harry Osborne's alter ego, Hobgoblin, we are intriduced to Venom (once again, not refered to as Venom), played by "that 70's show" star Topher Grance and the Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church. The two villians are extremely underdeveloped, having both spawned in this movie alone. The point though, is that the villians are secondary to Raimi's vision. Venom and Sandman come out of no where and still manage to bring suspense, along with great action scenes. If they can do it now, why can't they pull this same thing for furture installments?

A lot of the action and major events take place in the third act. In fact, "a whole lotta shit goes down." Some of the events, people are not going to like, people are going to bitch about. I do believe that entirely too (seriously, entirely) much happens in the final fifteen minutes. But it was a bold move; a risk the filmmakers decided to take. They didn't play it safe and I have to respect that. Some of the times, making a bold move here or there seperates a good movie from a great movie. This one falls into the latter category.

A film so important, so massive, is not going to rest without scrutiny. The film is not going to please everyone; but if you sit back and let it do its thing, you get a great piece of cinema. There are literary hundreds of different ways this movie could have gone and it seems as though most people do not like this one merely because it did not go their way as opposed to it actually be sub par.

I loved the awesome Spiderman charcater development that we've learned to expect from "Spiderman 2" and the fight scenes look absolutly amazing. As far a super hero movies go, the Spiderman franchise is king. "Spiderman 3" is no exception.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New Moon

The wait is over. You can take "Either/Or" out of your cd player in hopes that a hidden track will find is burried beneath the surface. Ever since Elliot Smith's death in 2003, fans have been morning the loss of the legend while looking for material not released. For a while has been servicing fans with rare demos (until earlier this month when the RIAA stepped in) and has been with concert audio. For the first time since 2004's "From a Basement on a Hill," a new Smith album is being released.

Kill Rock Stars will release the double disc, titled "New Moon," on May 8th. The album contains 24 songs recorded by Smith between 1994 and 1997, a time period in which Smith could have probably recorded an album per day. Most of the proceeds from the album will go directly to Outside In , a Portland-based organization dedicated to providing services for homeless youth and low-income adults.

Rest assured, this album will be awesome. Many live versions of the songs have long be running around, but of the 24 tracks, only 3 have been actualy released. "Whatever (Folk Song in C)," which appears on the album in demo form has long been my favorite Smith song and although I have heard a good portion of the other live versions, I'm really excited to hear more polished versions.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Must Happy Hearts Break So Hard?

There is a lot more music out there than anyone has the time to listen to it. I've been a big fan of Okkervil River's "Black Sheep Boy" from 2005, but I have never had the chance to take a big look at their back catalog.

While listening to Westfall off of "Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See" I decided to let my itunes take it to the next track, a song I had never heard, called "Happy Hearts." I thought something had malfunctioned on my itunes or it was on shuffle because right at the start of the song a peculiar voice came in, and it is not Will Sheff. "Is that Daniel Johnston?!" I shout after hearing it.

The song is fantastic. Will and Daniel share the mic for different sorrowful verses and come together for a beautiful chorus. If there is anyone writing songs right now who reminds me of a young Daniel, it's Sheff. During Daniel's verses, it is hard to believe he did not write the material.

"Everybody's searching for a place to put their love," Daniel sings, a sad, yet unlifting moment in the song. Instead of sounding depressed will the haunting lyrics, Sheff and Johnston seem hopeful, like they will find that place to put their love, eventually.

To make things even better, Daniel has added a Brooklyn show on May 15th, the day before he is playing Highline. If I wind up going to both, that week will officially go down in histroy as the best of all time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Upcoming Concerts

It's kind of hard to write a blog about new music and keep it updated when all I have been doing is listening to Sky Blue Sky. I will, however, explain how exicted I am for the week of May 9-16.

Being a teenager without his license, it is hard for me to attend a lot of shows in a small period of time. So, I always get excited when I'm seeing more than one act in a week. Memorable times when I did the "two show in one week" deal was when I say Flaming Lips on a Monday night and that coming Friday saw Sufjan. I couldn't have asked for a better week. The perfect band followed by the perfect solo act; perfect bookends.

The other time was just as good: The Hold Steady on a Saturday and M. Ward the following Friday. Once again: perfect band and perfect solo act. While it is pretty lame that I remember these things, since I don't go to too many shows I remember each one fondly.

May 9-16 though has three awesome concerts that I have been looking forward to. To start off the epic week is the start of the Highline "Festival" with Arcade Fire playing Radio City. I'm not crazy about Radio City, but the seats are good and the band is even better. Not to mention, the opening act is the fucking National! And possibly a David Bowie appearence? If so, it would be the greatest concert week even if it only had one show.

The Arcade Fire-Ocean of Noise

Two days after Arcade Fire comes They Might Be Gaints at the Stone Pony. I've always thought of them as the guys who sang the "Malcolm in the Middle" theme (which they are), but it turns out they are a lot better than that. I'm not dissing the song, it's just not that great of a representation of them. Anyway, that show should be fun, especially since the intimate atmosphere of the Pony.

They Might Be Gaints-Hall of Heads

Topping off the week, also part of Highline, is the brilliant Daniel Johnston at the newly finished Highline Ballroom. This is by far the most anticipated concert I am ever going to go to. Daniel Johnston is a god; the experience should be angelic. The best part about it is general admission. I love waiting in line and knowing I will have the chance to be right next to Daniel himself will make the wait even more enjoyable. I'm not expecting the older songs I know in love and I'm not really too familiar with his new stuff, just hearing him play music will be worth the world.

Daniel Johnston-Wicked World

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More Quick Caps

Yesterday I reviewed two new albums that will be remembered at the end of the year. The two reviews for today are from bands who, in the next few months, I will be seeing live. Both shows should be great for they truely are two of the best in the business. These records helped solidify Arcade Fire in my book and Wilco, well, they're just Wilco.

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

I'll start off this review with a brash statement: this is the most beautiful record I've heard in years. It's not A Ghost is Born; it's not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; it's not Summerteeth. Sky Blue Sky doesn't deserve to be compared to those records; they were good on their own terms, but those terms were completely different. Those records shouldn't even be compared amongst themselves for they're all completely different. Jeff Tweedy is a cameleon; nothing he writes sonds even remotely similar to pervious works.

While this album is softer--more soulful, less rock--than previous efforts, each member of the band still contributes in their own way. Sure, Glen Kotche must have been a little bored putting these songs together because of minimal percussion. Nels Cline lends his hand with a lot of prog-guitar, especially on songs like "Shake it Off."

This album has not been released yet, but with it streaming on the bands website all the time, I would be surprised to find a Wilco fan who hasn't heard the record. The backlash has already began. "This is boring," seems to be the calling card for Sky Blue Sky. I'll admit it, the first time I heard the album, I was bored. Fifty plays later, I can say this album is just as affecting as any previous effort. If you can learn to go with the flow and accept the fact that Wilco isn't that much of a rock band anymore, then you'll have an easier time accepting this record for what it is.

Somehow, though, "The Thanks I Get" did not make it on to this album. Much like "Magazine Called Sunset" for "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," the track did not fit into the album. It is rare for a veteran band to continue to put out great albums with b-sides that are just as good, if not better.

For some odd reason Wilco has picked a show in my town for this upcoming tour. I hope this time, I can meet the entire band and Tweedy. While I didn't get a chance to get tickets to the show a few days afterward in Hammerstein, this is the first time I'm not going to have to travel to see a great band.

"Sky Blue Sky" takes Wilco in a new direction and unlike "Cassadaga," the album maintains itself without falling flat in spots. By now, Jeff Tweedy has solidified himself as the best song-writer around today. If you can't look past the fact that this album won't make you dance, won't make you break stuff, then you're missing out on some of Jeff's most personal songs. This one is a keeper.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

"Funeral" came out of no where. In late 2004 the world went crazy for the bad peculiarly named the Arcade Fire. The album managed to live up to it's enormous praise. "Neon Bible," the bands follow up to the popularity was garnered with the same response. Debuting on the charts at number 2; selling out Radio City in minutes; the Arcade Fire are about as mainstream as "indie" gets. But hell, I'd rather them giving the general public a view of indie than having a band like the Arctic Monkeys do it.

If I could describe this complex album in one word it would be intense. Win Butler begins the journey, "I will walk down to the ocean/After waking from the nightmare/No moon, no pale reflection/Black mirror, black mirror." Needless to say, it's a lot darker than funeral. Even without Win's dark lyrics, this album would have worked as a full instrumental release. The arrangements are beautiful with haunting church organs, looping guitars, xylophone, accordion and keyboard.

The Arcade Fire really "Keep the Car Running" with this brilliant sophmore effort. It seems as though, even if Arcade Fire released an album half as good as Neon Bible musically, their intensity and angst alone would make it a good listen. And if their performance on SNL was any show of their intensity live, I am in for a real treat at Radio City.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Quick Caps

I've been gone from the blog for quite a while now. For the past few months I've just become really lazy and the over tiring post-a-week became too much; go figure. I do plan on keeping the blog updated from now on though, for real.


Over the past weeks a bunch of news albums have been released. New albums from seasoned veteran artists such as Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes and Wilco have not been disappointments. And the new with Arcade Fire album, the band is able to avoid a sophmore slump. Here are some quick reviews of albums that have been in heavy rotation in my player.

Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Once I put this cd into the player, I knew it was going to be awesome. It had to be, especially after "Good News for People Who Like Bad News," which wasn't particularly bad, just boring.

It is rare that I enjoy an album too much upon first listen but "We Were Dead..." hits you right away. As far as Modest Mouse goes, it is compromable to the band's 2000 masterpiece "The Moon & Antarctica."

The album begins with the completely insane "March into the Sea" in which band leader Isaac Brock yelps out a wicked "Ahahaaa!" during the chorus. The song itself is a perfect opener with a whole lot of energy. The following song, the obvious single "Dashboard," maintains the energy of the first track and gives the radio a much needed dose of Modest Mouse.

Johnny Marr makes his presence in the band known on this album. On every song you can here the newly acquired guitarist hard at work. Brock still shines on every track and the best thing about it is that you can tell he is having a blast.

While it is obvious that songs like "Dashboard" are begging to be played on a top 40 radio station, the album is not a blatent attempt to make money. Modest Mouse aren't "selling out." The opener shows the exact contrary. Brock's voice is still there, screaming and yelping in all of its glory. His lyrics are still there, challenging the listener to sit through some of the tales. His intentions are not to compromise the music to each a larger play, but rather to challenge the average listener to listen to something new.

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

The problem with making an album after "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" is that the new album will not be "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning." When I first heard "Cassadaga," I was disappointed. Why is Conor sining about the end of the world? How is this Bright Eyes?

Although "Four Winds" hit me with it's drawn out, honky tonk intro, the song it self made me feel uneasy. Is the direction he is taking? Turns out, it was the direction he was taking. Fourtunatly, however, it was the right direction to go.

While the arrangements on "Four Winds" itself are over done, the lyrics are well done. And while Conor is too ambitious on some songs, the ambition allows for arrangements such as those on "Coat Check Dream Song" and "Soul Singer in a Session Band."

What's gone from "Cassadaga," though, is the personality of Oberst himself. "I'm Wide Awake..." is one of the most personal albums ever recorded where each song shows another aspect of Oberst's personality .

Writing about himself is what Oberst does best. As far as song writing goes, this album is a major step down. Unlike Modest Mouse, Conor seems to be sheding artistic integrity in order to appeal to a wider crowd. His voice seems to show this trend also. He stays on key most of the time and for the most part his voice sounds a lot better, but it is lacking the emotion his cracking voice portayed in older songs like "Poison Oak."

Sure, the arrangements are more complex than any previous effort, they are the only worth while part of the album. When I think of Bight Eyes, the first thing that comes to mind is lyrics. The lyrics aren't bad per se, but they seem to distanced; too much like Conor is singing someone elses's songs. While "Cassadaga" isn't a bad album, and it is growing on me after each listen, it is missing something. If Conor can keep the good arrangenments without compromising song-writing, we will be in for a treat next time around.

The reviews for the new Wilco and Arcade Fire will be posted tommorow.