As Yet Untitled

Friday, February 10, 2006

Concert Reviews

These never saw publication, but since I recently found them again, I figured: "why not put them up somewhere?"

And so here they are.

The Decemberists
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Jennifer Gentle and Dead Meadow
Antony and the Johnsons, CocoRosie, William Basinski, and Devandra Banhart

All after the jump.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Tyson said...

The Decemberists with Okkervil River
March 18th, The Showbox, Seattle

It was with some trepidation that I went to see the Decemberists play in support of their new album "Picaresque." Here's why: 1) Rachel Blumberg, drummer and occasional vocalist, had left the group to focus on her other band, Norfolk & Western; 2) two new members had been added to the line-up; 3) The Decemberists have a history of putting on great shows, and, really, there's only so many times you can trump your previous accomplishments before you hit a plateau; and 4) Every last piece of The Decemberists' gear had been stolen the night before the show, which generally stresses even the most seasoned of bands.

But somewhere between the wonderfully strong screwdrivers made by the Showbox's bar staff and the surprisingly lackluster openers Okkervil River, I realized it was going to be a great show. Why? Because the crowd was pumped, the place was packed, and the band, despite their setbacks, was actually going to play.

Clothed in trench coats and red scarves, the band took the stage. Many of their instruments still bore price tags from their purchase earlier in the day. They looked at each other, then out at the crowd, and then Colin kicked into "The Infanta."

I should mention that I am one of the unmentionables in The Decemberists' camp, he who had "Picaresque" a couple of months before its release and played the hell out of it, on the radio (hello KUGS), in the car, at home, anywhere
when I had a stereo and a spare moment. So, it was wonderful to watch those who didn't have the album yet be introduced to the songs, with a wonderful mix of awe and exuberance. Well warranted too, as the band obviously loves the new songs, and plays them with an unstoppable energy.

Focusing mostly on the new album, The Decemberists still played many fan favorites, including "July, July", "Billy Liar", and "Red Right Ankle," featuring Colin Meloy solo and acoustic.

Although Mr. Meloy might be front and center, every member got a moment to shine; for instance, Petra Haden, one of the new band members, stepped up with a cover of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights", which, as she realized half-way through the song, was pitched too high for her range. The song soon devolved into her giggling about her inability to hit the high notes. And yet, being absolutely adorable in doing so, the crowd forgave her instantly.

The concert ended with "Eli the Barrowboy", sung with all the sorrowfulness and ennui that it deserves, and "The Mariner's Revenge Song," replete with horn section. Secretly, I had been hoping for "The Tain," but at just half that song's length (nine minutes and some
change), and with an equal amount of drama, storytelling, and emotion, it was a welcome substitution.

At the song's end, the crowd applauded. They also cheered, screamed, danced about, and demanded more. Many of them did all of these things at once. But the house lights came up, and we streamed out into the streets, touched by something bigger than even we could have expected.


Dead Meadow with Jennifer Gentle
April 7th, Chop Suey, Seattle

Jennifer Gentle love the 60's. Their newest album "Valende" is essentially a mash note to the decade, full of beautiful pop melodies, crazy and creative instrumentation, and a mean dollop of psychedelia.

The last of which was especially highlighted during their opening set for Dead Meadow at Chop Suey. My date and I had rolled in just after the other two opening acts, and thankfully were able to find a table and sit down before we had our minds blown.

Without a word, Jennifer Gentle took the stage, momentarily checked their tunings, and then dropped into their first song, a song which featured kazoos. At which point, I turned to my date, and stated this fact: "I love this band."

This band, by the way, is out of Italy, is five years old, and features members who are barely old enough to get into the club they were playing. That last point hardly seems worth mentioning when it comes to the end result. Their set was wonderfully loose, incorporating disparate elements and influences, unexpected instrumentation, and a willingness to explore every limit of whatever song they were tackling.

Switching from straight on rock (these guys are signed to Sub Pop after all) to extended instrumental freak-outs, Jennifer Gentle kept the audience guessing, even as they drew them in ever closer. And then, as quietly as they had arrived, they left.

It would take a damn good band to not get upstaged by these sorts of upstarts; Dead Meadow is not a damn good band, but a great one. Taking a cue from their openers, they walked on stage, and immediately set to work. They kept their set heavy with songs from their newest, "Feathers," while still allowing those songs to breathe, and occasionally destroy everything they came across.

Together, Dead Meadow and Jennifer Gentle was a one-two combination that absolutely killed. If you missed it, count yourself a fool; if you caught it, you know how lucky you are, and either way you should still count on catching them whenever they come back.


Anthony and the Johnsons with Devandra Banhart, William Basinski, and CocoRosie
April 23rd, On the Boards, Seattle

On the Boards has been part of the Seattle scene for going on a quarter of century. Throughout its history, On the Boards has always prided itself on presenting and premiering visionary artists. Generally, these artists are visual in one manner or another, but for two nights out of this year's season, On the Boards decided to focus on all things aural, and figured the best way to do so was to let Anthony and Johnsons headline a concert, and invite a few of his friends, those friends being William Basinski, Devandra Banhart, and CocoRosie.

Devandra Banhart began the evening. He walked onto the stage to rapturous applause, and then he and another guitarist sat cross-legged on the stage, where they remained for the rest of their set. Banhart was visibly gleeful at the opportunity to play songs from his albums to an audience that obviously got it. Before he left, he even presented the evolutionary advantages of unchecked follicle growth in today's youths in a song calling for more long-haired children.

William Basinski was up next, although he wasn't so much performing as presenting. His set consisted of a movie scored with some of his usually wonderful ambience. Unfortunately, without anyone on stage, these forty-five minutes were the weakest of the evening. Basinski stepped on stage as the film ended, was applauded, and then dropped back into the darkness of stage left.

After a brief intermission, CocoRosie began with their beguiling and inescapably beautiful music. Their songs featured piano, harp, guitar, and various children's toys, not to mention their own bewitching voices. While CocoRosie is, at its core, two sisters, Sierra and Bianca Casady, the former a student of classical opera in Rome and Paris, the other a street urchin of sorts who sang a cappella on street corners and bars, when seen live they seem bigger, more enveloping, and darker than you might expect.

Anthony and the Johnsons took to the stage soon after CocoRosie took leave of it. Featuring Currituck Co.'s Kevin Baker on guitar, Julia Kent on cello, and Rob Moose on guitar and violin, the assembled Johnsons settled themselves by the grand piano before Anthony appeared. Seemingly uncomfortable, and strangely be-wigged, Anthony
sat behind the keys and launched straight into "My Lady Story." If you've never heard Anthony's voice, you're doing yourself a disservice. It's mellifluous and ineffable, over the top and overtly subtle. Tonight, Anthony stayed mostly low-key, shying away from some of the grander phrasings that grace his album, choosing instead to rely on muted epiphanies. The Johnsons were right behind him, providing just the right amount of emotional swell, but for the most part simply staying out of the way. As his set winded down, he invited CocoRosie on stage for a duet (a tri-et?), which soon grew to include Devandra and William Basinski. And then it was time to go. One by one the performers left the stage, and audience stood and cheered their leaving. And continued cheering as the house lights went up. And kept on cheering. The crowd was clamoring so much and for so long that Anthony had to come back out and tell them that the performance was over. "We're done," he said. "We'll see you later. Thank you."


Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
May 19th, Nightlight Lounge, Bellingham

Sharon Jones is the real deal. She was born and raised in James Brown's hometown, and shared stage space with everyone from The Four Tops to Maceo Parker. She's released two albums and more than a handful of 45s (yes, she still releases vinyl singles), all featuring her powerful voice, and amazingly tight backing band. She is, as anyone who has ever heard her will attest, soul sister number one. And here she was, in our fair hamlet of Bellingham.

Hometown heroes La Push opened, and, as I came in mid-set and uninformed, I was left to wonder "who are these incredibly funky men, and why is Stell Newsom playing with them?" The audience was not plagued with such existential questions. They were far too busy dancing. La Push wrapped up, thanked the crowd for their energy, and soon joined them as the Dap-Kings, Ms. Jones' backing band, began what was one of the fastest stage set-ups I've ever been witness to.

Then, there they were, seven men in six suits (the drummer sat exempt), waiting for bassist and bandleader Bosco Mann to kick it off with a short stamp of his foot.

Imagine an intersection between Atlantic's catalog circa 1950-60, anything put out by Motown during its heyday, the best of Philly Soul, and the hot funk of the 70s. When Mann's foot came down, we didn't have to imagine. We were there.

After an introductory song, guitarist Binky Griptite (this band also features drummer Homer Jenkins, percussionist Bugaloo Velez, and saxophonists Neal Sugarman and Otis Youngblood. I'm not saying their names are made up, but they are pushing the bounds of believability.) stepped to the mic and introduced Sharon Jones.

From that moment onward, the crowd was in a frenzy. Everyone was dancing; even the waitresses and barbacks had an on-the-one step going. The band broke it down over and over again, and each time everyone got a little funkier.

As the set went on, Ms. Jones took off her shoes and her ear rings, showed us how to do the Tighten-Up and the Funky Chicken, and invited half the front row on stage to dance with her. Through it all her voice was strong and pure, and the band just got tighter as the night got longer.

After reprising most of both her albums, including a cover of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Our Land" and a simmering version of "My Man is a Mean Man," Ms. Jones thanked us and regally exited the stage. The Dap-Kings remained to finish out the song, and they, too, left.

We did not. We stayed and demanded an encore. And we got one. One by one the Dap-Kings retook their positions, and Griptite, ever the emcee, announced Sharon Jones' return to the stage. We cheered and then we danced until the sweat was dry. Two songs later, Ms. Jones thanked us again and left, only to return moments later, after the
song was done, to be carried into the crowd.

I've never danced so hard sober in all my life.


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