January, 2009

1/30/09: Right On Dynamite @ Pianos (8/100)

January 31st, 2009

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My friend Al emailed me earlier in the week about some shows he was going to check out. This being the first of two. He said his cousin plays in this band Right On Dynamite, who just got off tour with Frightened Rabbit. I checked out their myspace page and it sounded good to me. Let’s do it. 

We hit up Motor City, a dingy dive bar on the LES, before the show. On my walk over, I text my buddy Charlie who used to live across the street. Here’s how that went down:

charlie

Unfortunately, I went before I left my apartment. Sorry Chuck. 

Al and I grabbed a drink, and then headed over to Pianos to catch the show. We catch the end of the band before them (Shit, I can’t remember their name. Someone let me know, cuz I’d like to see them some time). Al introduces me to the band before they hit the stage. Nice guys, nice vibe in the room. Fun, relaxed. 

Right On Dynamite hit the stage: Daniel on guitar/vox, Nicholas on bass/vox and Jon on drums. Their music is poppy, lo-fi and somewhat unpolished (at least, live) with slightly overdriven, bright guitar. Fun and simple vocal hooks and basslines. Solid, simple drums. Basically, the formula that Built to Spill made a career out of. And believe me, the similarities between these two bands don’t end there.

So I’m nodding along, digging the vibe, and so is the crowd. Then after a song or two, Nicholas calls me out! I guess Al must’ve told him about the project, and he wanted to tell the crowd (and the rest of the band). He says, “I want to talk about Al’s friend Nick over there. (pointing me out) He’s going to see 100 bands in 100 nights, and we’re band number eight. Really cool idea.” Daniel, says “Wow. I love the number eight. We are the octopus.”

Indeed they are. An octopus of  musical good times, like this guy. Right on, Right On Dynamite. I had a blast. Thanks for making eight, great.

Man that was a corny way to end.

Week #1: What I’ve learned so far

January 31st, 2009

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Earplugs: I’ve never worn these at shows, but if I want to be able to hear again in 100 days, I gotta get on it.

Stretching: Again, not something I would’ve thought necessary, but it’s like a marathon – and I wouldn’t run one of those without stretching out first.

Drinking: Turns out you can make one beer/drink last a whole show. Who knew? And this is a no-brainer, but drinking makes a show expensive. It turns a $6 show into a $20 show, a $15 show into a $40. Don’t kid yourself that the price at the door is the price you’ll end up paying.

Be Nice: Even if it’s really packed, someone digs their elbow in your back, people are knocking you over to get to the bar, or to the front, and yelling at you – just brush it off and be nice. It will make the show better for everyone.

Control: As an audience member, you have almost complete control of how a show goes. The band can be feeling it, but if the crowd isn’t, the band will become insecure (or defensive) and the show will suffer. Remember how much power you have and use it wisely.

Cover charges: Covers are for suckers. And currently, I am still a sucker. I gotta start finding more free shows, or befriend more people who can get me into shows.

Mondays suck: And so do most of the bands playing on them. 

People don’t suck: People like to see someone do something they couldn’t. Like, go see 100 consecutive days of music, for example. And the reaction I get from people I tell about the project makes the project worth it. 

Donations: If you ask for them, they will come. Thanks to all for your donations so far. (Thanks Boz, Al and Mom)

1/29/09: Wizard Rock! w/Swish and Flick & Justin Finch-Fletchley @ Sidewalk Cafe (7/100)

January 30th, 2009

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What the hell is Wizard Rock? Fan Fiction put to music. What’s Fan Fiction? It’s when a bunch of crazed fans decide the author’s work isn’t enough for them, and writes their own version of their favorite stories. In this case: Harry Potter.

That’s right. Wizard Rock is bands inspired by Harry Potter. Does it get any nerdier than that? Not really. But don’t tell that to any of the people at Sidewalk Cafe tonight – or they might go all Avada Kedavra on your ass.

I hit up Sidewalk Café early to grab some food. Former co-workers of mine from my MTV days, Lance, Thomas and Jim, decide to join me on this nerd quest. Fast-forward to 9pm. Dinner is done and it’s time to get our wizard rock on. Surprisingly there are less people dressed up than expected. I see one “Hogsmeade is for lovers” t-shirt, a woman in full Hogwarts uniform (robe, shirt, tie) and a Potter-esque striped scarf. But most everyone seems to be masking their inner nerd, at least until the music starts.

First up is Swish and Flick: a solo, seductive Slytherin perched on a stool at center stage, singing ditties about the post-pubescent Hogwarts: horny Hogwarts, if you will.

“If wizards do it better, then death eaters do it best…”

“If you wanna get with me, you have to promise that you’re gonna make me come…with you to the next yule ball.” (insert laughter)

“She’s like Joni Witchell,” says Thomas. Good one.

She plays about 35-40 minutes total, during which we lose Jim – too wizardly for him. But Lance and Thomas and I stick around for the next act. Maybe it’s someone coming to defend Gryffindor House? Not exactly.

Next up is Justin Finch-Fletchley. Not the actual wizard from Hufflepuff house, but a dude with an acoustic guitar playing under his name. Finch-Fletchley hits the stage and immediately launches into an energetic track about…who knows what, but something to do with Harry Potter and black magic.

If this guy’s got anything, it’s enthusiasm, showmanship and charisma. The songs aren’t complicated, basic G/C/D, but it’s all about the stories and references – the FanFic of it all.

Everyone seems to know the lyrics, the references and each other. Which makes it really interesting as an outsider stepping into a niche community and watching them be themselves. Most of the time you see bands in NYC, there’s a great deal of pretension: hipster band, hipster crowd, whatever. But this is genuine, and charming. They’re unapologetically (albeit, with a fair dose of irony) massive Potter nerds. Deal with it, muggle.

About halfway through his set of songs like “Dumbledore is Gay” and “Umbridge is Dumbridge,” the novelty has worn off and I’m reminded that this is my 7th day of music in a row – and I’m ready to leave Hogwarts. Part of me feels like I should stick around for The Whomping Willows, followed by Draco & the Malfoys, to get the full wizard rock experience. But I’m afraid nothing the Ministry of Magic could cook up will keep me awake for that.

 

1/28/09 Annuals @ Bowery Ballroom (6/100)

January 29th, 2009

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Where do I start? How about the end:

(all times are approx.)

12:11 Annuals walk off stage. House lights turn on.

12:10 Thanks New York…

11:58 The Annuals are ending with a wimper, not a bang

11: 52 They play one of their best songs (“Carry Around”) second to last. Not sure I care anymore. They lost me about an hour ago.

11:42pm Update Facebook status: Nick is wondering if encores are optional – I need to decide on a ruling here.

11:40 Encore break.

11:38 [yawn]

11:31-11:33annuals-fbook1

11:30 Good song: “Brother” ruined by the singer spitting (spit? water?) toward the crowd to punctuate the end. Less emotion, more arrogance.

11:21 Oh man, sooooo much vocal wailing. Does every other word really need to be this epic, painful and gut-wrenching? Is this the new genesis of emo happening before my eyes?

11:12 Update Facebook status: Nick is zzzzz @ Annuals

11:11 I look around. Half the crowd looks bored. Why are they all here? Are there people making themselves go to shows, like me?

10:49 “Are you having fun yet?” asks the singer(weak crowd response) I said, are you having fun yet? Scream louder!” he pleads (whiney, snotty – not fun, pleasant)

10:45-11:21 A lot of songs I don’t understand. Arrangements that just seem flat and boring. A lot of instrumentation, sure. But the songwriting is just not there.

10:35-10:40 Great intro. Double drum sets is always great. Add two more toms to that and it’s super tribal and percussive. So far so good.


10:31 Annuals are off the side of the stage. They’re going to start on time. Perfect. It’s not super packed. Maybe half full? (I’m optimistic, for now).

10:26 A lot of people with cameras crowd the front row. Some actual photogs, some just people with cameras.

10:15 The ticket guy downstairs says, “Annuals will be on in 15 minutes.” Nice and prompt. I like that.

10:14 Get to the Bowery Ballroom, show my ID and get a wristband. It doesn’t rip any hairs out of my arm. Bonus.

1/27/09: The Rural Alberta Advantage @ Pianos (5/100)

January 28th, 2009

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It’s day #5 and I’m already tired and my stomach’s a mess from going out, drinking beer and eating shitty food for four nights in a row. Honestly, what have I gotten myself into? Two weeks ago I was on a pretty solid diet – counting calories, low carbs, barely any drinking, working out – but I have fallen off that wagon pretty hard, and fast. And if I keep drinking beer at every show, I’ll need to change the URL to 100 days of rehab. I have to give myself some rules, like immediately. Here’s one: I can only drink beer at shows on the weekend. I’ll start…um, next Monday. 

I’m guess I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. Plus, I’ve spent a bunch of money so far. Which is why I am going to be adding a Paypal donation function to the blog soon. I’m sure my mom will donate a few bucks. You should too – if you value karma.

So I worked until about 10pm tonight and then went straight to the show. From advertising to binge gigging – this will be my life for the next 95 days. I’m really looking forward to tonight’s show. It’s the Rural Alberta Advantage @ Pianos. A great little Canadian band playing their first show anywhere outside of Canada. Technically they’re from Toronto, but Nils (vox/guitar/keys) originally hails from Alberta – hence the name.

I get to Pianos, pay my $8 and head into the backroom, where it’s super packed because the band The Loom is playing their last show of a residency there. Lucky for the RAA, most of the crowd stayed to see them. And they’re great right from the first note. They seem happy, excited, humble and genuine – basically, like every other Canadian I’ve ever known. Their music is honest without being sappy or whiney (and the comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel is impossible to ignore). Nils (vox/guitars/keys) tells the stories behind some of the songs and thanks the crowd about a million times.

And then chimes in with, “Man, you guys are intense…” Then shyly turned away to his bandmates as if to say, “Let’s start, fast, please…” But he’s right. NY crowds don’t aim to intimidate, we’ve just seen it all before, and want you to show us what you’ve got. So we sit and stare and wait. The great bands are able to use that energy to pull out their best.

The RAA did just that, because as they could see, NY loved them tonight. So they returned the sentiment and treated us to something special. Following the final song of the set, they walked into the middle of the crowd and sang us a quiet, sweet goodnight song.

1/26/09: Mother/Father @ Arlene’s Grocery (4/100)

January 27th, 2009

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Oh man, I am doing this all wrong. I have got to go see some real bands or this whole experiment will be a waste of time and money. Not to mention a complete bore to read. Listen: I know it’s a Monday at Arlene’s Grocery, the free night. But damn, I really hope this is the worst show I see for the next 96 days becuz if not, then I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it.

Mother/Father was a last second change when Eric decided to tag along. It was his birthday, so I let him choose. Made no different to me really. Plus, Sleepy Rebels are more of the kind of band you go see with your girlfriend. It wasn’t until about, oh I don’t know…one song into Mother/Father’s set when I realized they are the kind of band you take your girlfriend to see when you really hate your girlfriend, or want to break up with her.

Simply put: Mother/Father was awful. I’m not going to parse words here, or waste anyone’s time. There just wasn’t a single genuine or interesting thing about them. It was truly amazing. I mean, I looked at their myspace page earlier in the day, and they have what looks like a real, legit tour. Sadly, that tour should’ve been like 10 years ago when they might’ve been able to ride the Interpol/Killers/Bravery gravy train to mediocrity. 

Apart from the enthusiastic guitar #2 (who strangely looked like a young J. Mascis, making this experience even weirder), they just didn’t have much…of anything. It was just five dudes in all black, tight jeans, long black hair, with no idea and no POV. It’s not enough to just dress the right way or have the right ethereal synth sound. The songs have to go somewhere and do something.

After the show, Eric gave me $20 and said, “Please, go buy a ticket to a real show this week.” Understanding that if I continue down this trajectory, I will shoot myself in the foot before I even get started.

So this is my pledge to anyone reading this: I intend to go see as many established bands as I can on this journey. Someone you’ve heard of and want to read about. Bcuz in the end, yes, it is going to be tough to see 100 bands in a row. And there are bound to be some stinkers and whatevers in there for sure. But in NYC, I have got to be able to do a lot better than this.  

 

1/25/09: Bryan Scary and The Shredding Tears @ The Mercury Lounge (3/100)

January 25th, 2009

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Wow. Ok. Band #3: Bryan Scary and The Shredding Tears at The Mercury Lounge. This is the kind of band that is going to keep this project fun. They hit the stage in matching blue jumpsuits - and immediately brought it. From the first note, they were jumping all over the place, yet never missing a beat. I wasn’t sure what I was in for, but I liked it. The music is positive, fun, inventive and inviting. Proggy, poppy and jammy, with hooks galore. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but I was really happy to be seeing it. Like a band out of a Wes Anderson movie — with Bryan Scary being played by Jason Schwartzman. Bryan is every bit the charismatic, enigmatic front man needed for this kind of experience. Oh, and he had an Paul Stanley-like star painted on his face. (only smaller)

With a name like Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears, what would you expect? A bunch of music nerds playing nerdy music, right? Well, then you wouldn’t be disappointed. What do they sound like? Hmm. Let’s just say if Elton John, Yes, Phish, Of Montreal and the Flaming Lips were somehow CG-ed together by George Lucas, and then added as a character to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – that might be close. 

What is the show like? In a word, this band plays with pizzazz. And pizzazz is just pizza with two more z’s. Which means twice  as awezzome. Sadly, while I’d love to, it’s kinda tough for me to really comment song for song since this is my first (but not last) Bryan Scary experience. But let’s just say that each song brought with it a new aural adventure that didn’t ever get boring or repetitive. The math/prog rock like changes were too often to let that happen. So did the different props Bryan had on stage: motorcycle helmet, a homemade TV frame (see picture) for a quick commercial break, hats, sunglasses, etc. 

They played with a spastic charm. They played with childish enthusiasm. They played their collective hearts out. And that’s all you can ask out of a set that starts after midnight.

Thank you Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears. This is going to be a fun ride with bands like you along the way.

1/24/09: The Picture @ The Mercury Lounge (2/100)

January 25th, 2009

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Band #2: The PictureThe Mercury Lounge. This is the release show for their EP Bluebirds. I’ve never heard these guys before, but my co-worker Allison is friends with guys in the band, so I knew I would know at least one person at the show. Kurt was there, too. So, good – now I know two people.

(Side note: I think this is going to be rare throughout this project. I’ll probably be flying solo a lot. But whatever. Bring it.)

The Merc is packed. The Picture fans definitely came through for the big night. But it’s kind of a weird crowd. I don’t know if it’s the frigid NY night, or what, but there’s a large amount of d-bags and a-holes knocking me over every 5-seconds, people yelling at me (“watch it, dick.”) when I try and push close to the stage to take pictures. You know, the kind of thing where no matter where you are, you’re in the way. Good times. 

The music of The Picture is ok. Not great. Pretty generic rock music. Lots of reverb/delay/arpeggio-laden Telecaster noodling action going on, ala U2. Keyboards and pretty chord progressions, that sort of thing. It’s tight and there are hooks. Some of the songs sound like anthems you could hear easily them in a TV spot. And the drummer is good, especially when he’s all over the toms. They’ve got a big sound, probably from all the delay, and being a five-piece. But I don’t know. I’m not blown away.

They play less than an hour set, pretend to leave the stage, debate how many songs to play for an encore, then decide on three and settle back in. The encore is pretty decent and they show the most energy they’ve had all night. They start with “Rise” and it’s not bad . Two songs that follow, the set come to an end, and the place begins to clear out. 

All in all, I didn’t hate it. It was pretty much as I imagined. Pleasant, easy-to-comprehend rock music. Not bad, not amazing. But you get “The Picture.”

Get it?

1/23/09: Anthem In perform “Rumours” @ Cake Shop (1/100)

January 24th, 2009

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Here we go, 100 bands in 100 days. Exciting. Fun. Exhausting (I’m guessing). Why am I doing this to myself? I used to go to a lot of shows. I used to write about music. I don’t do either as much anymore. That’s all changing for the next 100 days (Jan 23 – May 2).

First off, Anthem In @ Cake Shop – performing Fleetwood Mac’s seminal record Rumours.

I hit Cake Shop with Savoy (he requested a code name — not sure why), pay the $6, get a wrist band that pulls out the hairs on my arm (“damn”) – something I’m going to have to get used to in the next 100 days – and head down to the cavernous basement that is Cake Shop. If you haven’t been, just imagine really claustrophobically low ceilings and a floor slanted toward the stage – creating a “stadium standing” situation.

The opening band finishes up after one more song. Fifteen minutes and 20 Check-one-two’s later, Anthem In is on stage and ready go. I think this is the first time they’re performing Rumours, and they don’t normally sound like Fleetwood Mac – or look like them, save for the bass player who’s dressed like Mick Fleetwood from the cover art. But here we go: Fleetwood Mac, the Cake Shop basement tapes.

The band kicks right into the first track, “Second Hand News.” Ashley and Allen (guitar/vox) are harmonizing pretty well. But it doesn’t seem like Fleetwood Mac is on stage by any stretch of the imagination.

Now, I know Rumours is supposed to be one of the best rock records ever, but I have to admit, it never had any significant impact on me. As a music fan it’s probably expected that I would hold it in high regard, but what can I say? But whatever, what I can’t help thinking about is how weird it must be as a band to play an entire record written by someone else. Especially considering that apart from some minor changes here and there, Anthem In’s version isn’t shaping up to be different enough for them to own it themselves. Anyhow, back to the show…

The acoustics in the Cake Shop basement aren’t doing Anthem In any favors. Ashley’s vox fail to cut through. I hoped they’d figure that out at some point, but sadly never do.

Fast forward to halfway through and it’s sounding pretty decent. Or is that the Jack and cokes? I can’t decide. Savoy likens the show to “glorified karaoke” at one point – but again, I blame Ashley’s vox getting hung up in the foam, soundproofed ceiling. It’s not blowing me away, but it’s a fun, interesting way to kick this project off.

I’m getting anxious for the show to end when they bust into “I Don’t want to know.” Best song so far, tight and solid. There’s one more after that, and then “Go your own way” closes out the night. An ok version, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t nail the transition from verse to chorus. Oh well.

I didn’t realize until today, when I went back to listen to Rumours, that Anthem In didn’t play the tracks in order, since they finished with “Go your own way.” And I think that kind of misses the point. I mean, I get it. It’s a better song to end a set on, as opposed to the sleepy “Gold Dust Woman.” But I don’t know if you can shift stuff around like that unless you are Fleetwood Mac. I mean, if you’re paying homage to a legendary record like this, I just think you kinda gotta keep it real.