Saturday, September 5, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Who plays a banjo in a suit and tie? Steve Martin does. (Who else would, really?) Well maybe not always in a suit and tie, but yes, he does play the banjo. Quite well, in fact, as evidenced by his new album, The Crow, ranked at the top of the Bluegrass chart. The suit and tie was more a formality (literally) of a benefit concert for the Los Angeles Public Library, which he played at the Club Nokia theater downtown L.A. on May 11. He shared the bill with the brilliant North Carolina bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers and later shared the stage with his old friend John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The show opened with an interview (turned battle of the wits) conducted by humorist Dave Barry.
Although the concert flirted with stand-up comedy, Mr. Martin is a serious banjo player. And yet he doesn’t take himself too seriously. On more than one occasion, he mocked himself for his lack of skills with the microphone (and even necessitated being rescued by a technical director). “It’s still the amateur night for me,” he reasoned, “It didn’t cost that much to get in.”
Typically in bluegrass music, the sense of play far outweighs the sense of order. Yet this was not the case on stage at Club Nokia, where it felt as though these bluegrass boys were playing by the rules: focused and serious with no time for knee-slapping or hooting and hollering. The audience was equally well mannered, seated as if at a classical recital rather than a toe-tapping celebration of life. Martin left the stage for two songs, allowing the Carolina boys two songs on their own, at which point they flocked to a cluster around the microphone and played with the real charm and energy of a bluegrass jam band.
Most of the songs were from Martin’s new album, one written decades ago while living in Aspen and, admittedly, “probably high” (“Pitkin County Turnaround”); one within the last few years while on vacation in the Caribbean (“I have $35,000 invested in this song” he proclaimed). Most were instrumental, as he acknowledged his shortcomings both in writing lyrics and in singing them. The Steep Canyon Rangers demonstrated their mastery of both of these skills, however, in catchy songs, exhibiting beautiful three part harmony. The result was an amusing contrast between their harmony and Martin’s monotone one line interjections.
The image of a young Steve Martin sitting around, high up in the mountains (pun intended) with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (and maybe Jack and Hunter and other notorious Aspen locals) is striking. It feels truer not only to the essence of the music, but also to Martin himself, than this dressed-up version that seemed desperate to free itself of the suit that just doesn’t fit.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Wakey's songs flirt with some bright piano chords a la Ben Folds, but stand out on their own due to the vulnerable and honest quality of the lyrics and the passionate and raw crooning of Grubbs' vocals.
Wakey Wakey are true performers: their gracious and playful nature is comforting and amusing and their skills as musicians have the ability to awaken your senses, your passion, your emotions. Like an addiction, they'll leave you wanting more. Thank God for month-long residencies.
Photo by Frank Celenza from the Mercury Lounge CD Release party
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Photo from Bird's show at Hiro Ballroom, NYC, October 2008
Andrew Bird’s literate brand of pop is carried out with virtuoso talent and enough eccentricity to ensure that his music is idolised by some and misunderstood by others. Because of this complexity it’s not surprising that Bird speaks in adjectives and broken sentences – taking his time to make sure his message is correct, yet moving in and around points. This is particularly so when Bird describes his new album, Noble Beast.
Compared to past efforts Noble Beast was produced relatively quickly. Bird strived for this streamlined recording to ensure that the initial idea behind the album was maintained. “I wanted it to be more woodsy, kind of mossy, earthy, kind of like that kind of steamy decay of things”, Bird explains.
When asked about the album’s lyrical themes and his characteristic vocal phrasings – part stream of consciousness, part neurotic tales and, on Noble Beast, partly songs of hope – Bird states that he makes a point of visiting Natural History Museums when he’s on tour for inspiration. “[The Field Museum in] Chicago is, like, older and mustier and heavier and darker. [New York’s American Museum of Natural History, where the interview is taking place] is kind of light and airy. But there are more dinosaurs in New York. " That’s cool, right? read more...
Friday, January 2, 2009
Review written for WirelessBollinger.com
The live show that Blitzen Trapper put on at Terminal 5 in Manhattan on November 17 was something like watching a road race. The gun goes off and the band fires out of the gate,
with high energy rock songs, well executed but very focused and mostly devoid of emotion. With their sights set so firmly on the track, it’s hard to tell if they’re actually enjoying themselves. But after a few songs, the sextet settles in, finding their own rhythm (which is accented in each of their six bodies in unison) and exposing more and more of their unique sound.
With a combination of shaggy beards and tight hipster jeans, it comes as no surprise that the music from these Portland, Oregon men is a cross between blues/country and rock/funk. Eric Earley sets the mark as the lead singer, who at times croons with the whiny resonance of the best Country singers, only to later bust out a grating opening chorus, screamed into the microphone, flirting with heavy metal associations while maintaining the precision of a classic rock band.
It is not only the vocals from Earley, however, that stand out. Many of Blitzen Trapper’s songs are colored with striking three-part harmonies, pulling the sound back towards blues and country no matter how hard it’s trying to veer away (the occasional introduction of Earley’s harmonica has the same effect).
Their live set was diverse and spanned more musical genres than their typical album; like a sampling of all the options open to them as musicians. This appeared to be more fun for the audience to experience than it was for the young men onstage, as Earley rushed each song’s ending with a cold “Thank you” and the band exited the stage somewhat hurriedly and anti-climatically to allow for Iron & Wine (the headliner) to set up.
For a band that can so clearly hold their own in one of the biggest venues in New York City, they could afford to relish in the moments a little more. Take a lesson from the tortoise: slow and steady wins the race. It helps to make it fun along the way as well.