Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. January 25, 2009. Club Nokia. Los Angeles, CA.

The Ivan Milev Band was, admittedly, sort of an odd choice to open for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Milev, a portly man who could shred like a rock god on his beautiful accordion, and Entcho Todorov, the violinist who announced that the pair would play songs “from Bulgaria and other country,” swung with eastern European flair and even tried their hand at a bitchin' Balkan version of “Tequila.” Unexpected opener, certainly, but they charmed our collective pants off.

That Sharon Jones, though – she's something else. Dap-Kings guitarist Binky Griptite introduced her as the “super soul sister with a magnificent je nais se quoi,” and really, who other than Jones could engage in a dancing dialogue with individual audience members, teach a boy in the single digits how to “be easy,” teach us about fishing in Jersey, and wrap up the whole package with a solid rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come?” All the while winking off innuendo and shouting out to the designer of her fabulous dress? That's Trina Turk, by the way.

52-year old Jones is a confident stage presence, adept at dancing in skinny heels, ad-libbing the hell out of her act, and never letting other women steal her men (she gave a verbal warning to a stage invitee who danced her way over to John C. Reilly-esque trumpet player Dave Guy). But she's a marvelous singer above all else, and what really gave her power were the band's newest songs, like “Loving You,” which got her literally moaning.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Walkmen! at the Henry Fonda Theater. January 20, 2009. Los Angeles, CA

Hamilton Leithauser's still capable of throwing a punch with his eyes – see “All Hands and the Cook,” where nary an opening word can be understood from within his grandmotherly rasp – but his stage persona almost seems friendlier than in years past, and rather than look like he's prepping for a fistfight, he now periodically smiles, has a thoughtful look around, and takes a swig from his shit beer. He's now a visual match, really, for the vulnerability he shows in songs like “This Job is Killing Me” (A Hundred Miles Off), where his voice cracks on the word “home” and suddenly he's standing so much smaller.

Of course he's somewhat tamer than usual, though. Last year's brilliant You & Me was much better received than the two records before it, and though a few key girls in the audience were, as expected, bounce-bouncing to semi-hit “The Rat” (Bows and Arrows), a whole floor was eager to accept the gems of the last record. Why fight the pleased? So he quieted his angry eyes and let Paul Maroon's beautiful Gretsch steal a few lights. As with “On the Water” and “Donde Esta La Playa,” respectively with tense build-up and great mystery, and “Postcards from Tiny Islands,” frantic but played with such enviable ease, Maroon's left hand tirelessly transitioning between chords separated by five frets.

By the time the show could conclude with a cover of the Kinks' “Come Dancing,” Leithauser almost looked happy. His impression of Ray Davies' impression of a Caribbean accent was solid, albeit mismatched for his New York leather jacket stance, but when it was over he smiled, unexpectedly and rather widely at that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

60 Minutes over 90 years equals...a whole bunch of minutes.

The unfortunate thing about keeping yourself occupied is that you do silly things like forget Andy Rooney's birthday. As of yesterday, ol' Rooney is 90 years old. Happy Birthday, Andy! May your drawers contain less clutter than they did on your last birthday. Erm...no pun intended.

Anyway, in more musically relevant news, Mission of Burma released a 5-song EP on January 6, available only via Rhapsody in MP3 format. It's called - hey! - the Rhapsody Originals EP, and it's got a really bleedin' good live tracklisting:

1. Careening with Conviction (The Obliterati)
2. Devotion (Signals, Calls and Marches Definitive Edition)
3. This is Not a Photograph (Signals, Calls and Marches)
4. Spider's Web (The Obliterati)
5. Academy Fight Song (Signals, Calls and Marches)

You can stream the EP for free, or better yet, purchase it, here.

For...ah...reference points only:

Mission of Burma - Academy Fight Song
Mission of Burma - This is Not a Photograph

In somewhat related news, two reissues by the Volcano Suns, a side-ish project that included Mission of Burma's absolutely brilliant drummer, Peter Prescott, are coming out January 27 on Merge. They are 1985's The Bright Orange Years and 1986's All Night Lotus Party, and it's their first time on CD. Spend money on one or both here.

Oh! And as for perhaps the best news of all, the Gris Gris, now-defunct-but-otherwise-perfect psych rock band from Oakland, has a live record to offer as of January 26. If you never had a chance to see the Gris Gris live while they existed, they were a hell of a live band - Greg Ashley propped in a chair with his head down until it came time to shove his guitar up into the speakers for endless miles of feedback, mid-audience floor performances, and (if you were lucky) the token kid in a mod suit screaming along to "Necessary Separation."

Live at the Creamery is not yet on the Birdman Records website but, like all other Gris Gris records, is currently available for pre-order here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

His combined whimsy and classy grace make him ripe for the KCRW crowd (horribly unfortunate when appropriation to an indie radio station is a measure of dullness), and yet, Andrew Bird has always been much too creative for a label like “dull.” An accomplished multi-instrumentalist who plucks, strikes, whistles, and sings like he's blowing a perfect, three-minute kiss – not unlike the equally-graceful Rufus Wainwright, to whom the description perhaps more literally applies – Bird is a man with true crossover ability, bringing just enough cabaret and jazz appeal to alternative rock to make it palatable to nearly any tongue. Hell, check out the third to last page of the liner art of Hot and you'll see a 23-year old Bird playing violin with the Squirrel Nut Zippers. He's a versatile man, that one, and he's got the type of voice that carries beautifully in a theater setting.

But then, Noble Beast, his first since the brilliant (and arguable breakthrough) Armchair Apocrypha, is a bit of a safe bet. He's got a belle of a folk ballad in “Effigy,” where he's playing a solemn fiddle and muttering a lovely melody in duet. He's whistling oh-so-subtly and singing along to a declining violin on “Tenuousness,” bringing collaborator Martin Dosh further forward in “Not a Robot, But a Ghost,” and doing his best Books impression on “Anonanimal.” Noble Beast isn't quite as eclectic or grabbing as some of Bird's earlier efforts, but gives him a rather clear identity, and it's another flawless and attractive record to reaffirm the fact that Andrew Bird remains, frankly, more beautiful than you or I.

Purchase Noble Beast (released Jan. 20)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's my stance? You know, I like to dance.

Aaaagggghhh!! Real, true, exciting (and really truly exciting) music news to report - Ian Svenonius has a new band! The Great Lispy One, formerly of Nation of Ulysses, the Make-Up, Scene Creamers/Weird War, author of this fine, pink-wrapped book, and host of Soft Focus, is now fronting Chain and the Gang. Three facts about Chain and the Gang:

1. They have a record called Down with Liberty...Up with Chains! It'll be out on March 9 on K Records.

2. They will be touring this spring! This includes a May 22 date at the Smell in Los Angeles.

3. You can sample the hell out of Down with Liberty on the K Records website. It's already far better than the last couple of Weird War efforts...

Join me on an Ian Svenonius geek-out!

The Make-Up - Hey Joe
The Make-Up - Drop the Needle
The Make-Up - Grey Motorcycle
Scene Creamers - Elfin Orphan