Sunday, April 29, 2012

Concert Review: Eric Hutchinson in Columbus, Ohio

It's been almost four years since I last saw Eric Hutchinson. His live shows are well known for being spectacularly amusing as well as genuinely good, and Friday night's show once again lived up to the hype. The A & R Music Bar is a little bit smaller than The Basement, where I saw him last time, but it was packed.

As soon as I heard about opening act Anya Marina, I knew I'd heard of her before, but I couldn't figure out where. The songs she played sounded cute and I assumed I must have heard one of her songs on Pandora. Like Hutchinson, Marina had a great rapport with the audience. There were some children in the front row that she talked to between almost every song.

Anya Marina

I don't have a lot to say about Marina's set because I wasn't especially impressed or unimpressed with it. It all sounded good, but being unfamiliar with the songs took most of the fun out of it. On her final number however, I did discover where I'd heard her before. As a closer, Marina played a cover of T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" that my college roommates listened to over and over again. Her cover makes the tune somewhat haunting and a little more catchy than it started out. I highly recommend it.

There was quite a lengthy wait between sets. I'm not sure what the complication was, but it seemed to take a while. Eric Hutchinson and his band finally took the stage and launched straight into "Best Days." Hutchinson engaged the crowd, asking them to sing along as much as possible.

They played a couple of songs from Sounds Like This, followed by "Not There Yet." The reggae beats in "Not There Yet" were used to lead into a lively and quick cover of The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." After that, Hutchinson played "All Over Now" and "Outside Villanova" from Sounds Like This and then introduced "Breakdown More." I learned that "Breakdown More" was originally released on his first album, That Could've Gone Better, which is now out of print.

Another staple of Eric Hutchinson concerts is songs made up on the spot about the audience. Hutchinson created a song about the inconveniently located pillars in the venue that was not only musically sound, it was also quite funny. Next up was the lead single from Moving Up Living Down, "Watching You Watch Him." The crowd loved the energy-riddled sad song. The energy of "Watching You Watch Him" provided a stark contrast to the intensely emotional "Back To Where I Was," for which the rest of the band left the stage. Still solo, Hutchinson moved on to a frequent cover, "Stand By Me." 

The band returned for two more songs from the new album. They ended the set with "Food Chain" and "Okay, It's Alright With Me."

There was a very short wait before the encore, which started with a cover of Sublime's "Santeria" that really sounded like an Eric Hutchinson song. I was completely unfamiliar with the song and couldn't figure out why so much of the crowd knew it so well. They closed the show with "The Basement" and finally Hutchinson's biggest hit "Rock & Roll."

Eric Hutchinson still puts on one of the best shows you can go to see. I can't help feeling there was a little less energy to this one than the first of his shows I went to, but it was still incredibly good.

Special thanks to my brother for snagging a set-list, which made it much easier to complete this review.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One-Mind Tracks: The Music Industry

It's no secret that there's as much politics to the music industry as there is to the government. Frequently, artists end up expressing their annoyance at the bastardization of the good art in the form of a song. Most times, the record executives don't even notice.

The Fear by Lily Allen
Lily examines the ugly lust for fame many people have, along with the idea that we are all conditioned toward the rich and sleazy archetype.

So You Want To Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star by The Byrds
The Byrds delivered this wonderful how-to song in 1967, during the hey-day of five-minute fame.

Frankly, Mr. Shankly by The Smiths
The sickening side to a life as a rock and roller is outlined. "Mr. Shankly" is also rumored to be Geoff Travis, the head of Rough Trade Records.

The Compromise by The Format
The Format used this song to express their anger at record labels. Elektra, the record label for their first album, failed to give it any kind of marketing or promotion. Elektra was bought out by Warner Music Group shortly after the release of their first album, meaning they ended up releasing Dog Problems on their own label.

The Moneygoround by The Kinks
All of Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One is about various parts of the music industry, including the people that populate it. This is by far the most cynical song on the album, discussing how everyone connected to the business side of music, despite their level of involvement, divides the majority of the money up, with very little reaching the artist.

You and I by The Monkees
Davy Jones and Bill Chadwick wrote this tune about the temporal nature of fame. It was written and performed near the end of The Monkees' career, after Peter Tork had already left the group.

Blood From a Clone by George Harrison
The song that gives this blog its name was written in direct response to Warner music rejecting Harrison's first version of Somewhere In England. Mo Ostin told him it "contained no hits," implying that Harrison was out-of-touch with the world of modern music saleability. Hence, in the re-do of the album, Harrison created this rant-filled opener with a ska beat and off-beat drums*, making a statement in the song that anyone can produce a soulless hit, but that doesn't make it good. Harrison was strongly opposed to the formulaic process executives wanted to apply to music and I think this song does a perfect job wording his concerns.

It's Still Rock and Roll To Me by Billy Joel
Like Harrison, Joel was asked to change to appeal to larger audiences. He responded with this uncharacteristically poppy tune with a new wave sound, arguing that music is still music no matter what the singer looks and dresses like.

Grace Kelly by Mika
A record executive reportedly asked Mika to be more like Craig David and change his sound to better fit the pop music arena. Mika was angered, and wrote this song in response, implying that he could try to be anyone to win approval but he's not willing to do that and lose himself.

Pork and Beans by Weezer
Geffen asked Rivers Cuomo to produce more commercial work, which angered him into writing a song about how he was going to do whatever he wants to do. Ironically, the song was quite a commercial success, getting great reviews and debuting at number 19 on the Billboard modern rock chart. But I think by now, the world is aware that Weezer really do only what they want to do, with complete disregard of approval from record companies, radio DJs or their fans.

Only a Northern Song by The Beatles
George Harrison has always been fairly cynical about the music industry. This song was a denouncement of The Beatles as a group and of Northern Songs, Ltd., the publishing company that all Beatles songs belonged to. Northern Songs was started by Dick James, Brian Epstein, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon, but after Epstein's death, James sold his shares to ATV, resulting in The Beatles no longer owning their own songs: even the ones that had yet to be written. Harrison had begun to feel fairly meaningless in the music creation process.

Ditty Diego (War Chant) by The Monkees
Written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, this track from Head is about the lack of freedom The Monkees had, not only from their producers and from their TV show, but from their image and the position they developed in society. I'm not sure whether it's fitting or sad that they didn't get to write this song.

Radio Radio by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Costello wrote this song as a protest about the way radio was run. Costello was angered by the fact that radio was so commercialized and that broadcasts were essentially owned by record studios and larger radio corporations which decided which songs were to be played. On a 1977 Saturday Night Live appearance, the band were pressured by their record company to play "Less Than Zero" instead of this, a more recent song. A few seconds into the song, Costello made the band stop and they started over with "Radio Radio," a song Costello also felt was more relevant to American audiences. The song change did not go over well, and in fact resulted in a twelve year ban from the show for Costello and co.

Panic by The Smiths
Morrissey and Johnny Marr were listening to BBC Radio One when they learned about the Chernobyl disaster. The presenter moved on immediately from the news report to "I'm Your Man" by Wham!, juxtaposing disaster and whimsical pop songs with no apology.

Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal by They Might Be Giants
As usual, They Might Be Giants use lyrics and music that sound slightly insane to get their point across.

Got any more? I'd love to hear them!

*These facts come from While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison by Simon Leng.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Concert Review: fun. in Columbus, Ohio

The last time I saw fun. was at Slim's in San Francisco. A couple of local bands opened for them, and they played a powerful set to a few hundred people. It was a small show that has to be one of the best ones I've ever been to.

Thursday night, I had the pleasure of seeing them again, with another of my favorite bands, Miniature Tigers, opening. The show was originally set for the Newport, a smaller Columbus venue, but there was such demand that it was moved to the Lifestyle Communities Pavillion, a venue that will hold around 2,200 people- and it still sold out. The line at 6:00 reached all the way down the block.

The show started at almost exactly 8:00. Miniature Tigers took the stage mostly unknown and played a knock-out set. Charlie Brand displayed his usual ability to engage a crowd, despite the fact that the crowd was much larger than a typical Miniature Tigers turnout.

Miniature Tigers

Miniature Tigers played a forty-five minute set that was a pleasant mix of their first three albums. Although Brand's voice seemed a little worn from several months of touring, he still remained on-key and belted the tunes out. I was already a fan, but most of the rest of the crowd also seemed convinced. 

There was a decently short wait time between acts, and fun. took the stage to uproarious applause. 

Fun. played an energetic set true to my memories of them...except more. The crowd seemed to dance and sing along to every song, but the music was still audible- and properly mixed- over the top. 

Fun. pounded through their songs, playing the popular "We Are Young" somewhere in the middle of the set rather than saving it for the encore as I expected they would. They performed a version of "The Gambler" that brought tears to the eyes of some patrons. 

It was clear before the group left the stage that there would be an encore. The crowd's claps and cheers and yells went on for only a few minutes before fun. returned to the stage. They kicked off the encore with a cover of The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" that seemed to improve on the original and blow the roof off. The show ended as fun. shows generally do, with "Take Your Time Coming Home," played gorgeously despite the crowd's constant cheering making it difficult to complete the softer section.

If you enjoy fun.'s music at all, I strongly recommend getting out to see them live. They put on a consistently excellent and lively show no matter what the crowd size is like. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Album Review: Moving Up Living Down by Eric Hutchinson

It's been four years since the clever and talented Eric Hutchinson hit the scene with Sounds Like This, but he's finally back for more. Hutchinson expands his genre on Moving Up Living Down, but still keeps some of the Motown feel he's become known for.

Moving Up Living Down kicks off with "Talk is Cheap," a song which serves to demonstrate Hutchinson's abilities as a vocalist from the fore. Although "Talk is Cheap" starts out like a traditional Motown or soul tune, it breaks down into a reggae beat that's a little surprising for Hutchinson. "Best Days" is a much more traditional tune for Hutchinson, featuring the sentiment: "and when this craziness is through//I'll spend my happiness with you."

Hutchinson seems to discuss his roots and inspirations in "The Basement," a celebration of classic 60s/70s rock and soul that finds him channeling Little Richard. The lead single, "Watching You Watch Him" is a catchy ditty with interconnected beats and guitar vaguely reminiscent of late-era Talk Talk and the overall feel of an early 70s Paul Simon song.

"Breakdown More" is a calm tune with touches of a country music sound to it. "The People I Know" is a more traditional Hutchinson tune, in the vein of "Oh." "The People I Know" outlines some relationships in the protagonist's life, wrapping up the stories with a chorus of "how'm I gonna get by//without the help of the people I know?//For better or for worse we all come together//and they won't let me die alone." The digital sounds on "Living in the Afterlife" would sound out of place on an Eric Hutchinson album, but he somehow makes them a part of his sound. "Living in the Afterlife" borrows from late 80s Michael Jackson. Hutchinson's voice is once again showcased on "In the First Place." "I'm Not Cool" is another song that almost could have been on Sounds Like This, featuring a series of stories to prove a main point.

The reggae beat is brought back for the closing song, "Not There Yet." "Not There Yet" could stand to be a stronger song, particularly since it's the closer. Toward the middle of the song, it even begins to feel a little repetitive. "Not There Yet" isn't a weak song, but it's probably one of the weaker tracks on the album.

Moving Up Living Down is a solid album. It's not as strong as Sounds Like This, and I almost feel like Moving Up Living Down has less soul than the former album, although there are also a lot more musical tests in this most recent record. Hutchinson's soulful voice and talent at both lyrics and music definitely make the album worth a listen.

Eric Hutchinson is a singer-songwriter.

Moving Up Living Down can be purchased here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Personal History: Buddy Holly

Going back to my early childhood, I would have to cite Buddy Holly as the reason I probably got into classic pop/rock. Before I knew who The Monkees were or listened to any Beatles, I was listening to Buddy Holly. How so? A tiny, one-shot cartoon called Dixie's Diner.

Dixie's Diner was a series of toys and what I assume was supposed to be a TV show pilot that were highly collectible in the early 90s. I got to play with the diner and characters once in a while if I was really good, but the cartoon was available to watch any time.

Dixie's Diner was set in an idealized 1950s, with pool sharks, street racing, and rock-and-roll music played on the Jukebox. The characters had to solve their financial problems by winning a "dance-off" - to the music of Buddy Holly.

In a sense, I think the plot was almost based around Buddy Holly's songs. One of the characters was even named "Peggy Sue." But I fell in love with the music. As I got older, I think I wanted to watch the cartoon more so that I could hear the Buddy Holly songs than for the cartoon itself (although to be fair, it wasn't a bad cartoon). My parents had a cassette of Buddy Holly songs that they played for me too, possibly to give the cartoon a rest.

There were years in which I didn't listen to Buddy Holly. I listened to The Sound of Music soundtrack and oldies stations. But eventually, I began to add Buddy Holly back into my listening diet. He was such a talented individual (along with The Crickets, I suppose). You can hear the influences of his music on the early Beatles all the way up to Vampire Weekend.

At this point in my life, I am amazed every time I realize that Holly was a fifties performer. Not only was the music a few years ahead of its time, it has a great deal of timelessness. I'm sure Buddy Holly's music will always be a part of my life.

Other Recommended Tracks:
Not Fade Away
Oh, Boy!
That'll Be The Day
It's So Easy  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Album Review: "151a" by Kishi Bashi

I recently had the opportunity to see Kishi Bashi live, and was instantly enraptured by his music. 151a is a collection of almost hauntingly beautiful songs in a vein that could be compared to Andrew Bird or Jónsi.

151a kicks off with "Intro/Pathos, Pathos," a brilliant combination of traditional orchestral sounds and electronic/synthesized sounds. "Manchester" continues the feel and features the gorgeous line: "My favorite part's when I die//in your arms like a movie." Although "Manchester" is just over four minutes long, it feels like it could go on longer. The tempo picks up in "Brighter Whites," a song which is catchier and slightly less ethereal than the preceding songs.

The strongest track in my opinion is "It All Began With A Burst," which is memorable and musical. The pace slows down again with "Wonder Woman, Wonder Me," only to pick back up on "Chester's Burst Over The Hamptons." "Chester's Burst Over The Hamptons" uses more synths than the rest of the album, almost sounding like a 70s science fiction show at the close.

Another particularly strong track is "I Am The Antichrist To You." "I Am The Antichrist To You" is soft, flowing, and gorgeous. The album closes with "Beat The Bright Out Of Me," the longest and most ethereal track on the album, and quite a flowing piece in its own right.

There are no weak spots in 151a. Each track has a wonderful sound and overall build. The instruments are present and absent at exactly the right moments. 151a may not turn out to be my favorite album of the year, but it is certainly a work of art.

Kishi Bashi is K Ishisbashi's solo project. K Ishibashi has worked with of Montreal and Regina 
Spektor. 151a is his debut full-length album.

151a is out April 10th and can be purchased here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Concert Review: Of Montreal in Cleveland, OH

Seldom have I seen a crowd so geared up for the performance they are awaiting as the audience at the Beachland Ballroom on Thursday.

Kishi Bashi took the stage alone at around 8:30, and began to play a set that instantly entranced the crowd. Bashi used his violin and live samples to play some of the most incredible and musically sound pieces I've heard live in a long time. His mastery of both pizzicato and conventional violin bowing were incredible to hear and observe visually.

Kishi Bashi

Kishi Bashi surrendered the stage to Loney Dear, a Swedish duo that were received with much less enthusiasm. 

Loney Dear

Loney Dear put on a reasonably good set, but the crowd was too energized for their soft, calm songs. It didn't help that, after Kishi Bashi, their music seemed a lot less impressive.

There was a long wait in between Loney Dear and Of Montreal. Lots of light adjustments happened, each time stirring the crowd into a frenzy. When the band finally took the stage, they launched instantly into an almost non-stop set of songs from their last four albums. Each song seemed to bring a new level of excitement to the crowd. 

The set was lively and energetic and just loud enough not to be too loud. The crowd danced and sang along to every song. The band ended their set and it was almost immediately clear that there would be an encore. Two people dressed as pigs returned to the stage and welcomed the band back out after a few minutes. Of Montreal then launched into a ton of songs, one right after the other, mostly from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and Skeletal Lamping.

There was not a lot of talking or pausing during the band's set or encore set, it was mainly just song after glorious song.

After the show, as we headed back to our vehicle, we noticed that lead singer Kevin Barnes was surrounded by a small crowd at the exit door. He was very sweet about signing things for people and taking pictures with fans.

Seeing Of Montreal isn't just a good show, it's a great experience.