Monday, October 17, 2016

Phantogram: One Ephemeral New England Date

Phantogram's Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter. Photo (c) by Timothy Saccenti.
Boston House of Blues, Boston, MA. Fri. 10-21-16, Doors. 7pm, Show 8pm. $25-$45.

Electro-pop duo Phantogram has strikingly few dates in the New England area. In fact, they have just one, which is a shame, considering a good portion of their dates are selling out. We're going to make the trek to Boston for this one, because, well, they're releasing their aptly named album Three and we feel like electro-dancing our ass off. Possibly to a single like this one. This would be our first time catching Barthel and Carter, and we're certainly excited to feel the vibe of this kind of show. If it's anything like the bust-a-move-cause-you-gotta-groove Three, this one might happen to be a wholly tolerable (slam-your-drink-and-bring-your-dance) party. That's our forecast on this one; most likely we'll see y'all there.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Beware of Darkness' Sophomore So Sophomoric, We Ask If It's "Real"

Beware of Darkness - Are You Real?
Bright Antenna
- out Sept. 16
2.5 / 5

The LA emo rock trio Beware of Darkness has come out with a sophomore album we've been anticipating since 2013's debut LP, Orthodox. A few words about that one: it's a fantastic rocker. And now, onto Are You Real?: it's not.

The dozen songs here do rock, yes. Stylistically, musically, the guitars growl, the hooks groove, the beats pound and sway. But what holds us back from declaring their sophomore a satisfying rocker is the, erm, sophomoric lyrics and content. Are You Real? feels conceited, a bit self-indulgent, and more than a bit misogynistic. It suffers from what we're going to call the "We've arrived... now what?" syndrome of successful debut bands. "Summerdaze" actually lists off the delights of summer, "Sandy beaches / B**ches on top of you" etc. etc. We're generally not a fan of such childish excess, no.

Our least favorite track is the title track, "Are You Real?", which is an incredibly mean, vicious breakup track. It's heavily one-sided, cruel, and lacks any redeeming wisdom that one ostensibly gains from breakups and setbacks. It's, quite simply, inauthentic. Which is a shame, because musically, instrumentally, it's a decent little rocker. We enjoyed a few tracks, including "Surrender," which maybe rocks a little less, but is far more mature. Still, coming off of Orthodox, we were fairly blindsided, and certainly put off, by some of the foolishness here.

This is an album we'd expect high school boys to jam to all the time... until they grow up. Take a pass.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Much awaited: Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Fete, 7-28-16

We'd been keeping on top of Unknown Mortal Orchestra since their sophomore full-length, cleverly titled "II." We were initially on the fence as to whether we wanted to catch the Portland, Oregonian foursome - mostly because we'd just come off the Newport Folk Festival the previous weekend. But we admit: we had a good time of it at Fete in Providence.

Yes indeedy.

So, obviously the UMO played some cuts off their latest jam, Multi-Love. No surprise there. But what we enjoyed about this performance were two things: how adaptable their songs were. Yes, as enjoyable as listening to Multi-Love is (and it's certainly enjoyable), we really enjoyed the disco beat the group had given to many of their songs. And the extended keyboard jams. And the drum solos.

Which actually brings us to #2 on the list of things we loved: this lady (photo (c) Marie Amara).

Newcomer Amber Baker on the tricked-out disco drums.
We probably should've made her #1, but we like making surprises for y'all. Miss Baker on the explosive disco-shredding drums was possibly one of the funkiest things we've seen. Perhaps funkier than keyboardist Quincy McCrary's hair (though our photographer may somewhat disagree with us there). Baker can certainly handle her drumset, and we've got to make her out as a highlight of the night.

So yes, we were surprised how tight and dance-y this group can be. They played to a small crowd maybe a bit under 50 people, but they know their stuff. Funky, exploring, jammy, too - the only Mortal Orchestra that shouldn't go Unknown. That was kinda catchy, right? Well, probably not as catchy as their extended jam closer "Necessary Evil," but we'll have to live with it. Our verdict? Yes, yes and yes. Definitely worth the price of admission. Catch Unknown Mortal Orchestra at your soonest convenience.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Newport Folk Festival Review: Sunday

Joan Shelley (all photos (c) Matthew Keefer)
This was where we started off the third and final day of the Newport Folk Festival. She's actually the second act of the Harbor Stage, having missed the first one (whom we later discovered was an amazing highlight of the whole Folk Fest - Ian Fitzgerald with Smith and Weeden...). But here we buckled down for a bit, sat and enjoyed Joan Shelley's acoustic duo, nice, simple, sparse. Kind of a palate cleanser, musically speaking. Refreshing start to the day.

And if Joan Shelley's brand of folk is refreshing, then the Oh Hellos are just a knock-out, high-octane pounding of folk-rock and harmonies.

Maggie Heath of the Oh Hellos.
Not only do we love their songwriting and execution, but we love how they execute: just sheer craziness. Absolute havoc wrecked the stage, especially because of this shoeless banjo bandit:

Unidentified Acoustic Guitarist (UAG) and troublemaker Reagan Smith, a la banjo.
Here you see Mr. Smith just singing along. Most of the time, he was a blur to our camera for the Cain he was raising. So that's why he appears all nice and approachable now. Be warned.

But yes, the Oh Hellos are an entirely energetic bunch of a nigh-dozen musicians, and we do love them madly. Next is Glen Hansard, whom we've never caught live before. We think this photo makes a strong case for buying a pickguard for your guitar.

A beat up guitar, maybe some traveling shoes (lyric stolen from Mark Erelli).
Like Joan Shelley's set earlier in the day, Glen Hansard's performance was one of those stripped-down, bare, let's even say naked kind of performances that sometimes you just need. Sometimes it just takes some scribbled lyrics and some damned emotive vocals to bring you to it. And that's what Hansard has, in spades, even. Never mind that he gave a Bernie Sanders shout out, and was maybe 4% political compared to Father John Misty (which is still more political than normal); Hansard was one of those acts... let's say we were definitely glad we caught him. It was enjoyable, yes, but moreover powerful. (Plus, he sucked Elvis Costello into a tambourine cameo.)

These guys... now these guys we love.

John McCauley, 1/3 of Middle Brother.
Middle Brother made a fantastic return to the main stage this time at Newport. And not only the three of them (Deer Tick's McCauley, Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes), but a ton of cameos hopped aboard, too. Kam Franklin, lead singer for The Suffers, was around Newport all weekend, and got in some good spots, including one for Middle Brother; and Shovels and Rope was another who joined in later on. We'd like to post more photos of the trio, but we figured we had a pretty bad-arse one of Vasquez on Friday already, so here's one to Goldsmith:

Goldsmith, another 1/3 of Middle Brother.
Middle Brother unfortunately has no plans for another album... we asked Vasquez himself... but regardless, their collaboration is one of our after-the-fact Top Albums of 2011 (review here) because, quite frankly, we still listen to it too much. It's fantastic, and worth it on vinyl if you have a player.

One more stop! We know, we know; why does the fun ever have to end? Because all good things must come to an end, and all things must pass. But thanks much for stopping by, for supporting the blog with your curious eyes and clicks, and for throwing an occasional comment up there. We appreciate your time and energy (and fun), so without further ado, we figure...

Mr. Elvis Costello. (Who had all kinds of stage cameos.)

Here's lookin' at you.
We don't think there's much to say about Mr. Costello: you know him or you don't. You respect him or you don't. We, honestly, don't know his music much, but stayed for the whole set; it was good. He brought along female rock duo Larkin Poe, who's new album we listened to a little bit, and liked. But yes, words don't always convey that much. Basically: you had to have been there.

So goodbye! Thanks for stopping by! We'll catch you all next -

Bye bye!
Oh wait, it's the Alabama Shakes! Led by Brittany Howard! We bought their vinyl Sound and Color at the folk fest, and while it's not too bad, really now, you have to catch these powerful musicians live. Howard is a madwoman fighting her guitar most of the way through the set, slashing and soloing like... like... like this, really:

The old myth of "sell your soul to the devil... for a guitar." Worth it.
They are so talented and ridiculously tight live, especially Howard, that we kind of don't get why their album didn't grab us that deeply. But yes, catch them now, catch them live, and enjoy the raw power of rock goddess guitar shredding.

There. You knew we wouldn't let you down (too much). Thanks again, stop by sometime next week (we've got something special planned), and catch y'all next festival season,

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Newport Folk Festival Review: Saturday

We think this is as good a spot as any to wax wistful. Why not, right? Over the years, we've gone over what the Newport Folk Festival means to us: music, fans, artists, and rain on occasion. But this year was a little different.

It was Saturday morning, snoozing in the shade, where we were met by a fellow Newport Folk Fest photographer. She had missed the first day, and maybe was hoping to catch a familiar face when we felt the tap on our leg.

Imagine a quick "hey."

Or a pretty lengthy chat. We caught up, on life and on music, and crossed paths at a few of the stages. She's a medical student, and has on rare occasion written and photographed various concerts in the area. It was nice to catch another friendly face.

Which leads us to our next point, where Newport differs from other 'fests: it's a friendly environment. We'd spoken at length to the other photographers in the photo pit, and where there can be open animosity to get the best shot, Newport is different.

"People are polite. They move around and let you through." (Paraphrased.)

And there's something to be said about that, about a congenial environment where everyone's here to do their job, and there's an unspoken (or in several cases literally spoken) respect. And where does that respect come from? The top, of course.

There is great respect for the musicians at the show, respect for the fans who keep showing, and even though we've heard some frustrations that other photographers have had over the course of this weekend, there is respect there, too. For those in, and those running the photo pits. And that's something that doesn't just happen overnight, it doesn't just appear like a genie, it's something that, actually, we just noticed this year. And that respect is, yes, something we respect.

Anyway, enough sidetracking, we know. We've got photos and musical advice to get to. Our first photo for Saturday being Rayland Baxter (all photos (c) Matthew Keefer):

Rayland Baxter, main stage.

And our second photo is of Ruby Amanfu...

And Ruby Amanfu, Harbor stage.
Rayland Baxter is your fairly typical alt-rocker, opening the main stage, and Ruby Amanfu is your fairly atypical, almost soul-style singer on a side stage. Amanfu was a backup singer for Beyonce and has broken into her own career; Baxter was fine enough, but set us off in search of shade (where we met aforementioned photographer). We mention this because, yes, there are great acts that come to Newport. Doesn't mean we dig everything.
Note: the surprise cameo of Chris Ryan (from Deer Tick) and the not-shown cameo of Dennis Ryan (also Deer Tick) at Miss Amanfu's stage. These guys were cameo'ing every stage.

And speaking of cameos... we'd heard Kris Kristofferson had graced the Texas Gentleman's stage (who were the last signatures we'd picked up on Sunday). But we don't have photos of Mr. Kristofferson. We do, however, have photos of this howler:

Why, howdy.
Nathaniel Rateliff and his Night Sweats have returned to Newport to boogie away your blues. And they certainly had: playing a handful off their self-titled full-length, this set was everything we wanted from the Missourinian. They even orchestrated a sing-along to "Howling at the Moon," which, of course, is our favorite song off that LP.

The tragedy with having three incredible stages of music is having to jump around a lot. Our next stop was Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, aka Lady Lamb nee Aly Spaltro. Here's one of the diminutive singer:

We be jammin'.
Yes, she really is that adorable AWWWWW. Case in point:
"You guys [referring to the rhythm section] want to jam something so I can braid my hair?"
(They lay a beat. Then Spaltro proceeds to attempt braiding hair. Realizes not enough time to finish.)
Adorable, indeed. We still miss her a bit from a Providence show we'd caught her at some years back. Jammable, definitely indie-lyric'ed tunes to her.

But if you want a song that you know, that your neighbor knows, that everyone in the whole freaking tent knows... then you go to this old geezer.

The man who is Folk.
We don't anticipate you'll recognize him at first glance. So: three hints. First word: yummy sweet honey ____ cracker. Second word: country nexus, ____ville, Tennessee. Hint # 3...

"I'll light the fire, while / you place the flowers in the vase / that you bought today."

You don't even need to guess. The audience didn't need to guess; all they needed to do was sing along to the classics that Graham Nash helped pen. We already said that St. Paul and the Broken Bones was our pick of the whole festival... we think we lied a bit. He was our discovery of the festival, and a great one, too.

Graham Nash was the Newport Folk Festival. Hands down. With Shane Fontayne, they played some new, played some old, but mostly, they just played, and the audience sang along. It was a bit maddening that Mr. Nash was on the back stage, but that didn't really disturb us; it was a lot more intimate at that stage. A lot more enjoyable. Mr. Nash even quipped - "It's ironic that we - two Brits - are playing at a colonial fort initially intended to keep us out," (paraphrased, of course). And then Nash and Fontayne proceeded to play a song about immigration. On point, good sir.

We have one last highlight, which may be a bit of a let-down after the N of CSNY, but we have to tread here, because, quite frankly, he's pretty hilarious.

Jesus-attired economic preacher, here.
He adore Father John Misty. We like that he's sardonic, ironical, nonsensical. We like that he's a bit preachy, even, shooting himself in the foot for pointing out all the oil that goes into making his own vinyls (and for lambasting consumerism in general). We like him.

And you know, this is where we say... "but."

But no, no "but" here. Sure, there were a couple kids on the Pokemon Go during his set (whom we were tempted to chastise) and perhaps his solo output isn't as beautiful and velvety as the brief Fleet Foxes catalog. But we like to put it this way: Graham Nash is the protester of old. Father John Misty, then, is the hip hipster protester of new.

He's fighting the good fight, we feel (even if he is just a hipster of sorts) and for that, we give him props and last billing for Saturday. Well, that and he was the last act we caught (chronology counts for something).

That's it for Saturday! We're going to type up our Sunday review and round-up as soon as possible, that is, within the next 3 months certainly.
Back right soon!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Newport Folk Festival Review: Friday

Let's start at the end. There was soul. There was dancing. There was camaraderie, a vicious sunburn, and music, through and through. We'll say this, too: 2015's Newport Folk Fest was still our favorite of all the years. But there was something special, something different about this one, just from a personal point of view. It was different, different from all the other years we've been. But we're going to get to that on the Sunday post. Right now, we've got music to attend to.

We're going to start an hour into the 'Fest. We'd known a couple people partial to Basia Bulat, and figured we should check her out, get the low-down on this lass (all photos (c) Matthew Keefer).

Bulat on keyboard and occasional tambourine.
Bulat was groovy, jamming her keyboard on electric organ setting, charging the audience in her poptastical, erm, pop. We caught up with her a little later in the day by the main stage, and she was so pleasant and congenial, and even signed our Newport Folk Fest shirt (more on that later). #1 on our shirt, by the way.

Straight outta Chicago, IL, we caught the Fruit Bats on the Harbor Stage. We've heard the quintet described as "alt-country" and "folk rock," but we felt they were pretty straight rock to us, probably moreso than any other act we caught. Here's one of lead singer Eric D. Johnson:

Put yo' arm in the air like you just don't...
The crowd gave in to their song "Baby Bluebird," and yes, it really was pretty fantastic. Lotta applause. But the real hollerin' came right after, on the main stage.

The music gods decreed: "Let there be horns." And there were horns:

The horns.
"Let there be a funky bass." And there was a funky bass.

The bass.
And on the seventh beat, they decreed: "Let there be this guy."

Mr. Janeway, taking it away.
Coming on stage after their instrumental warm-up, Paul Janeway, of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, must've shook some hips out there. We can't mince words here: they were the highlight of all three days. St. Paul is as soulful as they get, from his thin hair to his corpulent stature to those amazing sequined shoes on his feet (rainbow stars, yes). He shook the stage, we shook our bodies, and he shook that $20 bill out of my wallet for their debut album - with a follow-up coming out in September. Our mouth is salivating trying to get our hands on that one.

We love this next act a lot, though we didn't really connect with his "Solicitor Returns" solo. Matthew Logan Vasquez has been a mainstay of the Newport stages for a handful of years now, and graced the Festival with a solo and Middle Brother performance. Friday was his solo stuff (including "People, Turn Around") which we liked, but were not crazy about. What did make us crazy, though...

MLV is in the building. And now you know.
Check out this amazing coat that Mr. Vasquez' wife made. It's something else, huh? In addition to "People, Turn Around," Matt Vasquez' performance was, of course, incredibly energetic, and he always has a stage presence. Now he has a coat to go with that stage presence (though it was certainly hot to don the thing that day).

We have a couple of quick, quick stops. One, Neko Case at the Case/Lang/Viers stage:

Ah yes, Neko.
Theirs was another album we didn't quite get into, though it has its good parts to it. Second stop: Ray Lamontagne. We'd heard a lot about him, but really... why?

It's not like Mr. Lamontagne has the stage presence of Flight of the Conchords. The Aussie duo's set was replete with humdrum deadpan humor, and we were surprised by these closers. Was there something we'd missed in their two seasons on HBO? We admit, we'd seen a few episodes and weren't pulled in, but here at Newport, Jemaine and Bret were in top form, improvising all kinds of schtick that you'd've appreciated mostly in person, but also if you caught the NPR stream of the performance. Some things you might not've caught were a time-altered photo of the duo to more appropriately perform "Father and Son," as well as Bret catching a cheapo disposable camera from a fan to take a photo of the audience for them.

The two were stark raving mad. In the most polite, Australian way. Here are some photos:

Jemaine Clement and...
...Bret McKenzie, the Flight of the Conchords.
They were spot-on and totally worth waiting through the traffic to catch. But still, our sequined soul-fedora goes off to St. Paul and the Broken Bones. So just keep that in mind.

That's our first day of our Newport Folk Festival coverage, come back at us later this week for Day II: The Revenge. (We didn't use that joke before, right?)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - at Fete in Providence, Plus Album Review

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - photo (c) Neil Krug
Fete Music Hall, Providence, RI. Thurs. 7-28-16, 7pm. $17, $20 door.
(Also at Sinclair in Boston , 7-27-16 - SOLD OUT)

This month as been CRAZY with music, just absolutely rotten with it, and we'd been wondering how we're going to catch up on Unknown Mortal Orchestra now that they've made their presences known in lil' Rhody (and now that they're officially on our radar, finally). But wonder no more: we're going. This quartet of electronic musicians balance the eclectic with the outright poppy, driving their choruses straight into your ear, all while taking the most circuitous routes through every crevice of electronica. What is that supposed to mean? We're not quite sure, but basically these guys invent their own groove, fashioned from some of those weirder "pet sounds" you might expect from dudes with an electronic ear. We are super excited to catch them in a couple days. And here's our review of their 2015 release.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
- out now
3.5 / 5

We're not going to lie: this is probably the lowest grade we've given to an album that we've spun up over a dozen times. Maybe even two dozen, in the less-than-month we've had it. Let's get straight to it, then: Unknown Mortal Orchestra's third studio album is just one [bleeping] groove. It really is. But we do have a few issues with it, which we'll get to.

But first...

Go listen to "Necessary Evil." It's the quietest song on this album of grooves, but it's also the best-written. It's got its own svelte horn hook, and isn't as flashy as their single "I Can't Keep Checking My Phone," but "Necessary Evil" is a highlight to our snobbish cultured ear. That single, "Phone," is a blast to listen to, but (and here's where we get critical) the chorus wears on quite a bit longer than it needs to. Other songs on this album also suffer from chronic-chorus-overuse, especially "Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty," and we feel that with a bit of a brush-up just lyrically, this could be an absolutely stunning album. As it is, it's incredibly fun, and a far different direction than on their previous full-length. Which is definitely something we like to see.

Go pick up this album, we're probably rating it a bit too low, and if you're in Providence (or have already scored tickets in Boston) check them out. And say "hi." Worth your money, and recommended.