February, 2009

2/26/09: Spanish Harlem Orchestra @ The Blue Note (35/100)

February 27th, 2009

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I was chatting with my friend Al earlier in day, and he told me I should be on the list to see the Spanish Harlem Orchestra at The Blue Note. Sweet. I was looking forward to this one. I mean, how often do I get to see music like this played live? Exactly: never. 

He said if I had any problem getting in to call a guy named Oscar and gave me his cell. When I got to the Blue Note, I talked to the guy at he door, told him I should be on the list, but somehow I wasn’t.

So I call up Oscar, he answers, says I’m on the list, I say the clipboard guy says I’m not, he says he’ll be right down, comes down, points at the list inside the club, not the one on the clipboard, gets me in and I’m good to go. I check my coat, then my phone, see my friend Jeremy is going to come meet me, I tell him to hurry and settle into a seat next to an interesting couple, Rick and Gloria.

Rick’s a drummer who’s been to the Blue Note a bunch of times to see jazz. Tomorrow’s his birthday, so he wants to treat himself, and brought Gloria along. She loves latin jazz/dance/salsa, so she’s not complaining. Rick and I talk music, he gives me some jazz artists to look into, and the bands walks toward the stage. 

Jeremy shows up right as theThe Spanish Harlem Orchestra – a 13-piece, Grammy award winning latin jazz/salsa band – settle in on stage. They grab their instruments, introduce themselves, and then launch into a song.

It’s not until I scan the band and land on the Pianist/Music Director that I realize…oh shit….that’s Oscar. The same guy who came down and sorted out my name on the guest list. I instantly feel bad that I had to call him, and understand why the guys at the door were so apologetic for getting it wrong. And why my VIP card says I’m a guest of the band:

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And, as it turns out, Oscar is the man. He conducts this group like a master. A lot of the songs are his original compositions, and he is able to play his parts, while standing up, pointing at, and barking out orders to the other members when it’s their turn to play. He’s backbone, but the singers – those guys are the charm. They’re dancing, and spinning in choreographed moves – never without a smile. The brass section is incredibly skilled, the percussionists and playing complex, syncopated beats – it’s all so complicated, yet looks so easy. 

What wasn’t easy was this week. I’m feeling better, through most of the show. Only reminded a few times that I’m still trying to kick this stupid cold. Which brings up a whole other issue: being sick while doing something incredibly public that your employer knows about. 

If I wasn’t going out and seeing a band every night, I probably could’ve called in sick one day this week. I really did need it. But when your personal life is as public as mine, that’s sort of tough to do. I can’t call in sick, miss a day of work, and then head out to see a band, and write about it that same day. Not if I value my job. And I really do. So I toughed it out and went to work all week. That’s the sacrifice that comes with such a public endurance test like this, I guess.

Back to the Blue Note…

The band announces they’re gonna play a new song, and it’s in the style of a classic cha-cha song. That’s when the crowd erupts. People jumped out of their chairs, and danced (some, very over the top) through the entire song. Which makes sense. I mean, I did think it was sort of weird to watch this kind of music sitting down anyhow. I’m a shitty dancer.

The band finishes, thanks us, and then exits the stage – shaking hands and talking to the crowd on their way out. As Oscar walks by my  table, I make sure to reach out, shake his hand, and thank him, once again – for a great night.

2/25/09: Tapes ‘n Tapes w/The Subjects & Wild Light @ Bowery Ballroom (34/100)

February 26th, 2009

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Day 3 of being sick and I’m feeling better than the day before, and the day before that. So that’s good. And I’ve been looking forward to this show for a while. I saw Tapes ‘n Tapes a couple years ago during CMJ. I was looking forward to seeing them at a proper show where people show up just to see them. But I wasn’t there just to see Tapes. 

I wanted to see how The Subjects have been doing. I’ve mentioned before how I used to be in a band, which is technically true. But not in the same way the guys in The Subjects or the guys in Tapes ‘n Tapes are in a band. I never tried to make it. It was just friends of mine playing. We did manage to hold it together for about a couple years. Most of that time we rehearsed in the same building as The Subjects. So we became friendly with them. They got tighter and tighter, we got messier and messier. We felt apart, they picked up momentum. And so on.

I met up with my friend Ryan, his girl Erin, and friend of a mutual friend, Ollie. Out of our group, 3 of us were Minnesotans. Which is to be expected heading into a Tapes ‘n Tapes show.It also made me wonder how many other of us Minnesotans were representing. Someone needs to create an iPhone for something like that (and give me credit for the idea).

We got there just as the Subjects were going on. They sounded great. They were incorporating more keys than before, and Dave (lead singer) was giving up more vocal duties to drummer Matt. Made for a cool change. The newer songs (out on a record soon) sounded great. Definitely check these guys out if you get a chance. Not just saying that because I know them. Neither Ryan, Erin or Ollie had seen them, and they really dug them.

I was still trying to kick this cold, and going through times of being awake and having fun, to exhausted and having none. But at least I had my mostly-Minnesota posse, The Subjects, and then another friend Jon who I used to work all randomly at the show w/me. 

Random observation made by Erin: “Tapes and Tapes draw a really tall crowd.” And she’s right. Check this guy out:

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Tapes ‘n Tapes were finally set up and ready to go around, maybe 10:30? I don’t know. It was way past my sickass’s bedtime, that’s all I know. Ryan, Ollie and I grabbed a spot near the front right of the stage. Erin had to bail early. Not sure where Jon was at this point.

Tapes fucking killed this show. They split time between songs from The Loon and Walk It Off and even threw in some new ones for good measure – and were solid as hell. Not just musically, either. But with crowd control, too. When some drunk guy yelled “Play louder!” Tapes singer Josh Grier said, “If you think this isn’t loud enough, then you’re deaf.” In his best Minnesota-nice accent, of course. 

About halfway through they played “Insistor” and then, there it was…the mosh pit. I’m telling you: moshing is back. Maybe not for every band, or for the entire show, but it’s most definitely back. 

During the encore, I ran to get my coat and bumped into Dave, singer from The Subjects. I caught up with him for a bit and that was pretty much it. A good night catching up with friends, listened to some good music and no one farted (at least, not near me). 

Oh, right: the band Wild Light. They were awful, and from New Hampshire. Seriously, what band is from fucking New Hampshire? You’re telling me they couldn’t move to Boston? Or New York? Or Philly, to try and make it? 

But whatevs.

Press = Traffic = Press = Traffic…and so on, and so forth

February 25th, 2009

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Holy shit. One story on the Pop Candy blog on USA Today online yesterday, and this happens:

760 hits in one day (pic above).

The previous high was 129. Oh, and lots of other stuff happens too. Contacts from PR people, another story on MusicRadar.com today, an interview set up next week with a rock station in Washington DC (DC101), various other offers of guest lists/+1 to shows, a Twitter following that keeps growing….awesomeness.

Keep bringing it people. Let’s get to the top of the mountain…together.

(I don’t know what mountain I speak of, just sayin’)

2/24/09: Slim Twig @ Pianos (33/100)

February 24th, 2009

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What the hell just happened?

Was I really just at Pianos for Slim Twig? Or was that just another figment of my imagination, like the Nyquil-induced dreams I had last night…as I lay in bed for 12 hours, sweating, then freezing, sweating, then freezing. I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask themselves if that really just happened, though. Sick or well. If you’ve seen this Toronto trio, you know what I’m saying.

A Slim Twig show is a pretty bizarre, funhouse-like experience. A noisy, psychedelic, rockabilly freak out. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s pretty avant-garde shit, but there’s some interesting stuff going on in there. They’re like Sonic Youth and Liars and Jon Spencer and, some dude fucking freaking out on PCP. It’s weird and undecipherable at times. Yet interesting at all times.

Or maybe that’s because I have been ODing on vitamin C that last couple days. I don’t know.

This was a Paper Bag Records showcase, which was supposed to be Slim Twig, Josh Reichmann Oracle Band and Winter Gloves – a bunch of bands coming into town from Canada. But, Winter Gloves couldn’t make it across the border, so it was just the two bands. Didn’t matter to me though. I was only going to be able to sit through one band. And Slim was up first. 

The room was pretty empty when they started, but filled in a bit as they played. The singer made sure to call us out in the audience for forming, as he called it, the typical “New York half moon.” Three people moved forward to fill in some of the space between our half moon and the stage. I wasn’t moving anywhere. As I sat there, sweating and sniffling, and generally looking and feeling like a total mess, I was at least happy I was sitting there. Sitting being the key word. I found a stool. Bonus.

This fucking sucks to be getting sick during this journey. I mean, I have some great shows coming up this week. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a little cold and exhaustion ruin that. If nothing else, I’ll just be delirious for a few days. But at least for the last couple shows I’ve seen, that’s only helped me.

2/23/09: Trustfall @ The Mercury Lounge (32/100)

February 24th, 2009

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I’m tired, worn out, congested, waaaaaaaaa…It took 31 days for this project to beat me down. I gotta take better care of myself. This project is hard enough as it is – I don’t need to be sick on top of it. So I slept 12 hours last night, have been pumping myself full of Zicam, Vit. C, Emerg-C, OJ, etc. I hope to kick this sick quick because believe me, seeing a band like Trustfall is bad enough in perfect health, much less under the weather. 

To be honest, it’s hard for me to truly judge a band like this because I’m not a 14 year old girl. My niece Erika is, and she might’ve liked them. They were around around her age, and look like they won an American Eagle band contest. But I will judge them, because that’s the mission I’ve given myself.

It was pretty awful, like seeing the Jonas Brothers when only their family and friends went to see them. Musically, they were tight and polished. But songwriting-wise, it was pretty bland and predictable. Lots of palm-muted power chords and cheesy crooning. But, it was an early show, and I  knew they couldn’t play more than an hour, so I was just counting the seconds until I would be home, relaxing on my couch. Coincidentally my friend Al was at the show, too. I guess a friend of his who works with the band suggested he check them out. So I didn’t have to endure this experience alone, which was good. But I did have to spend $10 on it. Which makes me think of other things I’ve spent $10 on that were way better than this show.

Here are a few: 

Grey, pocket T from the Gap 

Converse slip ons 

A pint of Delirium Tremens

You get the idea.

The truth of the matter is, the band was pretty awful, but they could be dressed up, styled and sent out to tour with the Jonas Brothers, or any other tween band, and probably make it. No reason they couldn’t. But that makes me sorta sad for the youth of America. Surely there’s gotta be something better out there for them to like. I mean, when I was that age, I was listening to Kiss, Motely Crue and Guns n Roses. Where are those bands? Why is it that all the bands aimed at the youth today have to be so polished and perfect and easily digestible?

Whatever. I’m not the audience, so I guess I shouldn’t really care. I’m just a guy going out to see music every night, what do I know.

2/22/09: Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine @ The Bell House (31/100)

February 22nd, 2009

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Sundays suck. 

I don’t want to go out and see music on Sundays. I don’t want to do much of anything on Sundays. I guess that’s why I didn’t have any plan of attack for today until late last night. I was in denial. Why couldn’t there be more midday shows on Sundays? I mean, I couldn’t go do jazz brunch again – that would be a total cop out. So I scoured the venue websites trying desperately to find something earlier than 6pm, but nothing. Until…wait…there’s a 2pm show at Bell House? And it’s Robert Schneider from Apples in Stereo? But why is he playing under the name Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine?

Damnit, it’s children’s music. Shit, they’re probably not gonna let me in, like the kid rocker event at Pianos. Fuck, I better control my swearing, because I just bought a ticket to the show. 

Fast forward to Sunday, 2pm. 

I’m out of the R train in Gowanus and headed toward Bell House – hoping they don’t turn me back for not bringing a kid. Luckily, they let me in. I hope there are other people at the show without kids. Luckily, there were. Albeit, not many. But I manage to befriend one: a woman named Christina who works in talent relations for Nickelodeon. She was there scouting Robbert Bobbert. I was there knocking out a 2pm show.

How is the Bell house different from when I saw Ninjasonik and Japanther here a couple weeks ago?

First, there were kids running around everywhere. Wait, no that’s pretty much the same (just add 10 years). The merch table had brownies, cookies and cupcakes for sale, alongside CDs. Juiceboxes for sale at the bar. A free coat rack for parents to hang their coats. And tables and chairs set up around the stage. Come to think of it. This set up isn’t too bad. I mean, I’ll take a beer over a juicebox. But other than that, I’m cool with the rest. 

The clock ticks a bit past 2:30, and I’m already halfway through my second Coke when Bobbert finally hits the stage. He’s dressed in a white lab coat, flanked by a huge boom box, easel and bubble machine. It seems half the show is going to be learning, the other half will be music. But not in that order. Or any order, just all jumbled up…I’ll shut up now. 

At first, the kids seem into it. He’s got their attention as he runs through his schtick for the show: Awesome Inventions. They are basically things that already exist, but he’s renamed in order to get the kids to tell him what they’re really called. For example, he shows the picture of what he calls the oscillating string-o-phone, waits a beat, and then a bunch of kids yell out that it’s a guitar. He agrees that’s a better name, then picks up his guitar and sings them a song with it. And so on, and so forth.

The total show was around 40 min at most, maybe closer to 30, which was perfect for me. But I couldn’t help but thinking, a bit of a rip off for the parents considering tickets were $15 each (not sure about the kid cost) for such a short show. But hey, it got me home before 4pm, with day #31 under my belt, while the sun was still up.

Today, Sunday didn’t suck that bad.

2/21/09: Divergence @ Fontana’s (30/100)

February 21st, 2009

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I wasn’t feeling too metal tonight but there I was, at Fontana’s anyhow. I wasn’t sure what I was  really in for since I knew very little about these guys. show.. I was contacted by Brian from a band named Divergence a couple of weeks ago. He found the blog and sent me an email, asking if would check out his band if he put me on the guest list. Nice. My first official band solicitation of the project. I did some Googling and found out that Divergence is a metal band from Jersey. The song that starts on their site doesn’t sound bad (albeit, pretty obviously “inspired’ by Metallica’s “Shortest Straw – at least the intro), so I figured why not. It would help diversify the project. Indie Rock Thursday. Jazz Friday. Metal Saturday. Plus, it was free. And early, leaving the rest of my night open for a change.

Brian (bass/vox) sent me an email Friday, saying that if I got to the club around 6:30p, we could hang and chat before their set. To be honest, I didn’t want to hang and chat. I wanted to come, watch and leave. Nothing against Brian, I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice guy (they all seemed nice, good vibe in the room tonight). I just didn’t feel like hanging and chatting. I thought it might taint the entry I would write. Ok, unless he punched me in the face (which is always a possibility, this is metal) – I’m sure it wouldn’t taint it that much. But whatever, I was thankful he put me on the list, so I got to Fontana’s at door time, 6:30. Yet, the hang and chat never happened (except for briefly after).

 I’d never seen a show at Fontana’s, so I didn’t actually know where the stage was. But I did know that Fontana’s is across the street from my favorite dumpling house in Manhattan, and was looking forward to $3 dinner after.

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But I digress.

I found the door to the stage, said I was on the list, but the woman at the door had no list, so I showed her the email from Brian, and that seemed to be enough. The place actually got pretty crowded for such an early show (50+ people). A lot of family and friends I was guessing. Either that or there’s a big middle-aged metal audience out there I don’t know about.

Divergence hit stage and immediately brought the metal: cranking out song after Metallica-inspired song. Yea, sorry. I can’t write this entry without repeating how blatant the Metallica inspiration is. Thing is, apart from the one song that starts like “Shortest Straw,” the rest seem inspired from post-Black Album Metallica. Which I thought was weird since the pre-Black Album Metallica is the good Metallica (right?). In fact, just in case someone in the audience didn’t catch onto the Metallica inspiration, they actually played “Fuel” from Metallica’s ReLoad. I mean, it made sense. But I was still a bit surprised that they played it. You just don’t usually hear bands be that blatant about their inspiration when picking a cover to work into a set. At least, not until they become bigger. 

But they were having fun, the crowd was having fun, they were good at their instruments and the songs were tight (kind of have to be, this is metal). And I haven’t been to a metal show in a really long time, so it was fine. 

With songs titles like “Eulogy” and “My Prison Still Remains,” the requisite finger tapping, Crate amps and ESP guitars, this show had everything a metal show needs – except the badass attitude. Brian was definitely charismatic, but metal should scare you a bit. At the very least, it should make you a little uneasy. But that just wasn’t there tonight. Which was fine with me. I just wonder what the heavy metal gods were thinking.

Week #4: What I’ve learned so far

February 21st, 2009

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Farting at shows: People fart at shows. This isn’t a trend alert. In fact, this has to stop. I’m sure people have been doing for years. But I’ve just noticed it from going to show after show after show for the last month. Seriously people. Stop dropping bombs. We’re already crammed in there like sardines, and you let fly? I guess the benefit is you can’t be  blamed. But man…that shit is just rude.

Going to the Village Vanguard with Mormons (or people who don’t drink): I talked about this in my Terence Blanchard entry. But again, this is a good idea because a $10 drink ticket is part of the price of admission. So if you go with someone who doesn’t drink, then you get an extra one since it’s hard to drink $10 of soda. 

Just because it’s sold out doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole: Listen up. Just because it’s sold out, and it’s impossible to walk anywhere in the club (i.e. Le Poisson Rouge for Fujiya + Miyagi w/School of Seven Bells) doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole. We all paid the same price for the ticket. And we’re all annoyed with how crowded it is. If I’m trying to get past you, get the fuck out of the way. Don’t just stand there thinking I will somehow go around you. There’s nowhere to go. If you don’t like it, leave.

Jazz rules: Just sayin’.

2/20/09: Terence Blanchard @ The Village Vanguard (29/100)

February 21st, 2009

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I’ve been listening to jazz non-stop for the last two days. Walking to work. All day at work. Walking home from work. Jazz, jazz and more jazz. It’s been a great pallete cleanser of all the music I’ve been seeing (mainly indie rock). And, there’s just something that feels right about walking around New York City listening to jazz. Makes you feel like you’re in a movie. I had a very limited supply of jazz, so my friend Eric hooked me up with over 2 gigs worth, and then another friend, Alon, threw in 12 more gigs. Thanks guys, I think I’m good for a while.

Admittedly though, it’s a pretty foreign language to me. I knew I liked Coltrane and Miles, but I not much else. I did know that I wanted to see a show at the legendary Village Vanguard at some point during this project. So I asked my co-worker Yves, jazz aficionado, to pick out a few shows worth checking out at the Vanguard. He obliged, threw some my way, and I picked Terence Blanchard. My friend Alan said he’d been dying to go see something good at the Vanguard, too. So he and his wife Laura joined me for a Friday evening of steak, whiskey and jazz. Well ok, they took part in 2 out of 3 since they’re Mormon.Which brings up something I learned tonight.

If you have the chance, go to the Vanguard with Mormons. Why? Because a $10 drink ticket is included in the cost of entry. And no one can drink $10 worth of soda, so you get an extra cocktail. (Thanks guys)

We got to the Vanguard in time to grab a table a few feet away from the stage. Sadly, Alan had to strain to see the stage most of the night, after sitting next to a big guy who wouldn’t move his big melon out of the way. Oh, and my seat did have a nail sticking out of it if you pressed down hard enough, but whatever. This was the place of legends, and if I’m supposed to snag my jeans on a nail in the name of jazz, then that’s just how it’s gonna be tonight.

The Vanguard looks exactly how I imagined it would. Cavernous, unassuming and intimate. It’s not hard to imagine what it must’ve been like when Evans and Coltrane held court here. Save from the absence of a thick coat of smoke in the air, I don’t see it looking much different than it did tonight. 

The house lights went off, stage lights came on, Terence and his band hit the stage and immediately launched into “Transform” from his record Bounce. This song (and pretty much every song after that) went on for 15-20 minutes, which was great. It gave them room to breath and grow – and for each member of the band to put their stamp on the song.

Like I said before, jazz is literally another language to me. I mean, I play guitar and other instruments, and I’ve been in bands. So I’m familiar with chord and song progressions. But I mostly listen to and play rock music. Jazz is something so completely different.

Watching these guys play, it seems so effortless, yet what they’re playing is so complex. They’re each in their own world, doing their own thing, but it comes together as one piece. It literally oozes out of them as they all stand there, eyes closed, and it just flows. Pretty amazing not just to listen to, but also to watch.  

After the second song, Terence addressed the crowd and introduced the band. They’re all a fairly young, yet accomplished, group of musicians. The pianist was Cuban, bass player from Philly, drummer and sax players are both from Houston (Terence announced it was officially okay to like Texas again, after the last 8 year hiatus), and Terence is from New Orleans. They played another track from Bounce titled ”Fred Brown,” followed by a new track written by the bass player, tentatively titled ”TB song #6.” Terence made sure to tell us to “cheer for it, or it might not make the record.” And that wasn’t a problem because for me, it might’ve been the best song of the night. And that was that.

The band left the stage and the crowd cleared out to make way for the 11pm set. On the way out, I noticed the sax player and pianist made their way to hang near the bar. I approached them and told the sax player about my 100 bands project. He was nice and said he’d check it out. I grabbed my coat, and made my way back out of the cavernous jazz underground.

100 Bands recap show on WK Radio

February 20th, 2009

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 As if working a lot, going to shows every night, uploading photos and writing the blog entry after every show wasn’t enough – now I’ve added a recap show of the bands I’ve seen that week to my schedule. Tune into W+K Radio at  radio.wk.com every Tuesday from 2-2:30pm EST (11-11:30am PST). Beginning next Tuesday, Feb 24. I’ll be talking about how exhausted I am, the bands I just saw that week, and playing some music from those bands.