March, 2009

3/30/09: Orkestra del Sol @ Cargo, London (67/100)

March 31st, 2009

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Imagine you’re wandering through Eastern Europe. You stumble into an alleyway, pop into a bar below an underpass and come across a bizarre, 10-piece brass street carnival band. Then you’ll start to understand what Orkestra del Sol @ Cargo was like. Except in an alleyway on Rivington Street in East London, not Eastern Europe.

Yes, I came all the way to London, just to see a band play off a street named Rivington. But trust me, Cargo is way cooler than the LES spots in NYC. Sorry Pianos and Cake Shop, but it’s true.

Sunshine and I got off the tube at Liverpool Street, a stop I knew well from  the couple weeks I spent working in the London office of the company I work for. We caught a quick bus up Shoreditch High Street and jumped off just before Rivington. She used to work at an office around the corner from the venue, and knew the neighborhood well. It’s a pretty great area of town – very EV meets LES, but with an edge to it, still. Unlike said NYC neighborhoods.

Walking into the venue, I’m already excited for tonight’s show. Checking out the Cargo’s digs made me glad I decided to see this show. Cargo is a restaurant, bar and music venue. It’s very dark and cavernous, and there’s an enormous outside patio area with tables, chairs, benches, a foosball table and Shepard Fairey posters lining the inside fence.

Truthfully, I’d just picked this show at random. I heard Cargo was a good spot, checked out the site, saw this band was playing,  and from what I’d seen on Orkestra del Sol’s website, they look to be great performers. Plus, this is a style of music I haven’t seen anything even close to yet.

I’m not sure how best to describe theri style. Hmm…I guess they’re a polka-carnival-circus-swing-ragtime-jazz-big band-brass-gypsy type band who at times can sound like “a klezmer band on crack,” as Sunshine put it. To which I nodded in agreement, waited a beat, then asked “What’s a klezmer band?” She rolled her eyes and then showed me later on her iPhone.

Whatever the hell they are, Orkestra del Sol might be the most fun I’ve have at a show in a while. Seriously, if you just want to jump around, clap your hands, dance the polka, even the waltz, smile, laugh and act a fool, go see this band. Go alone. Go with friends. Doesn’t matter. Just go.

Here’s what you’ll get:

A 10-piece band playing the accordion, fiddle, alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, percussion and sousaphone.

One of the bandleaders in a turban, the other in a fedora (along with most of the rest of the band).

Lots of polka.

A “windup fiddler” routine – meaning, the fiddler stands in the crowd as one of the percussionists “winds him up.” Then, he plays a whole song in the crowd, walking in a straight line until people in the audience change his path. (Yes, I moved him from one way to the other, had to get involved)

A fiddler vs. sousaphone showdown .

Solos from nearly every member.

This…


And basically an inability to resist dancing around and jumping up and down like a fool.

At least, that’s what happened to me. I suggest you do the same.

3/29/09: Pete Doherty @ Troxy, London (66/100)

March 30th, 2009

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This show made me realize how good I’ve had it the last 65 days. The majority of the shows I’ve seen have been at venues within a 10-15 minute walk from my apartment. This show, not so close. We’re talking: Queen’s Park stop on the Bakerloo, change at Oxford Circus to the Central, change at Bank to the DLR, get out at Limehouse, walk about 5 blocks to the club. About an hour trip. Not nearly as bad as it sounds, but keep in mind, it was a Sunday night.

We got to the newly renovated Troxy, located in a rough-around-the-edges East End neighborhood, around 9:15pm. From the beginning, Sunshine didn’t seem to jazzed about going to this show. She’s not a huge fan of Pete Doherty. Neither are any of her friends as it turns out. I think the mere idea of him disgusts a lot of Britons.

But not me. I used to love The Libertines and never got a chance to see them. I know this won’t be the same thing, and I don’t know how much I even love his solo record, but it’s still Pete Doherty in London. Plus, there are just so few rock stars left anymore. Think about it: Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain (reluctantly), Layne Staley, Keith Richards (somehow still alive). The list could go on, but only looking back. Everyone is so safe and indie and precious these days. No one’s hanging off a bridge by a finger nail anymore. Includes Doherty, at least not for the time being. We’ll see how long that lasts. Especially when the stigma is kept alive by selling these FUCK FOREVER t-shirts at the show for example.

Things kicked off tonight withjust Pete and an acoustic guitar. The crowd hung onto and sung along with every word. After a few songs, a band filled out the stage. I didn’t pay too close attention during the Babyshambles era, I am more of a Libertines guy. So I didn’t know too many songs, to be honest. But it didn’t matter. They sounded great, and the crowd was loving it.

Security was really tight, as you can imagine it would be at a show of a “former” heroine abuser/crackhead. The funniest moment was probably watching two young girls run under a roped off area towards a stairwell, only to have security dart after them a minute later. “Maybe they were trying to find somewhere to shoot up,” I said . Then the girls got hustled back into the venue by security, and Sunshine said, “With that kind of outfit, they were trying to get backstage.” It was a 14+ show. There are too many things wrong with that.

Pete was joined on stage not only by his touring band members (including former Babyshambles members), but also a small string section and keyboard players – all dressed in matching black suits with white shirts and skinny black ties. “They all look like Mark Ronson,” Sunshine thought.

Later on in the show, a guy named Stevie, dressed in full Native American attire complete with feathered headdress, came on stage and Pete sang him “Happy Birthday.” Eeven later Lee Mavers of The La’s came out and played one song, “Son of a Gun,” with Pete and the band. That was great, but I kinda wished that one song would’ve been “Timeless Melody.” Oh well.

The show was surprisingly good (even turning Sunshine into a believer), and the crowd was tamer than one might expect, save for those who throw full cups of beer or water into the air randomly. I noticed this at the Lily Allen show as well, must be a UK thing. When the show was nearing an end, Sunshine and I got a jump on the crowd and scooted toward to the door. Once Pete finished, we made a mad dash for the DLR, preparing for another hour long ride back to Queen’s Park.

3/28/09: Animal Kingdom & Dutch Uncles @ Notting Hill Arts Club, London (65/100)

March 29th, 2009

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Nothing wrong with a little free, Saturday afternoon indie rock at the Notting Hill Arts Club. By the name you might think this would be fancy club, but it’s not. It’s a dark and dingy, underground indie rock club with rundown bar, tables and booths, £5 Tropical Martinis and £ 2.3 house/mystery beers. Mystery meaning you’ll get something you’ve never heard of, and aren’t sure what that is until you get it. The stage is tiny, and has 60s era PA speakers hang in front, blocking the view of half the band. NHAC is DIY in the UK. My kind of place.

Every Saturday is a free Rough Trade show at NHAC, featuring rising local/UK bands. This week it was called the Clash Saturday Social, and co-hosted by Clash Magazine. We could only stay for the first two of three bands: Animal Kingdom, Dutch Uncles and It Hugs Back. Neither all that impressive, to be honest.

Animal Kingdom was a bit of a generic, UK-sounded band, ala Coldplay or U2 – but without the songwriting (and I hate Coldplay). They were all reverb and delay, keys and brooding vocals. And they continued what is becoming an indie rock cliché (I think): multiple members playing multiple instruments, in this case guitar, keys and glockenspiel.

I’m not trying to be critical just to be critical, Animal Kingdom wasn’t the worst band I’ve ever seen. But truthfully, the most impressive thing they did was getting all five of them on that tiny little stage. Plus, they had an animal named band. Not only that, they tried to own the entire kingdom of animal band names.

After they finished, the room cleared out as they broke down their gear. Sunshine finished her Tropical Martini, which she pretended to like, but tasted pretty much like pineapple juice. I grabbed another mysetery beer which didn’t taste like much of anything.

As I stood there, I noticed that in this young crowd, out of roughly 50 people, there were exactly four dudes with beards (including me). That’s 8% of the crowd – a percentage that would be unheard of back home. I guess NYC music fans are the only ones still hanging onto this trend. Again, yours truly included.

Then Dutch Uncles was on stage and ready to go. The first, most noticeable thing is their “style.” A bit pretentious, and obvious attempt at irony. The eccentric lead singer in his shirt that looks like a Bill Cosby sweater, but it’s a shirt, and it’s silk. The guitar player in his super tight oxford shirt and slacks. Very anti-rock ‘n roll.

They were also anti-genre, too apparently. Rather than try and sound like other bands from Manchester like The Fall or The Smiths or Joy Division – they just decided to sound like all of them, all at the same time. That’s the biggest knock on these guys: lack of focus. They could’ve easily been a dance rock band if they wanted to (ala Franz Ferdinand) – but would need better songs. Or a punk rock band, ala MC5, if they’d just decided to. Instead they want to do everything, all at once. Not realizing where their good bits are and throwing out the bad. Just don’t be fooled by the single “Steady Cam” on their myspace page.

And if you find yourself at the Notting Hill Arts Club, don’t be fooled by the tropical martini, either. Go for the mystery beer, instead.

Week #9: What I’ve learned so far

March 28th, 2009

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When you go out every night you sleep when you can, where you can: I slept for about three hours on the flight to London, and I never sleep on planes. I’m usually that guy on overnight flights who’s still reading or watching a movie at four in the morning, while the rest of the plane is passed out. But not this time. I wonder if that means I can sleep in cars, buses, subways, etc now. Not sure if I want to find those out.

We are all pussies compared to Les Paul: The next time you decide against seeing live music on a Monday, remember that the 94-year old inventor of the solid body electric guitar plays two shows, every Monday night. Then he sticks around after the second show to meet anyone who wants to meet him. Sure, he doesn’t have to go to work the next day, but still. You’re a pussy and you know it. And so does Les.

Some things get worse with time: The band Live’s songs sucked in the 90s, and they suck even more today. Sorry, but it’s true.

3/27/09: Lily Allen @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London (64/100)

March 28th, 2009

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I see London. Soon I’ll see France. Right I now see my underpants, and socks and button down shirts – and every other piece of clothing that I own in my bag that was grossly over packed for an 8-day trip. So much so that my luggage actually busted open en route. Which I noticed when I got to baggage claim and saw it wide open on the carousel, with my clothes thrown back into it in a heap.

Welcome to London, mate

I made it to Sunshine’s flat around noon, took a quick nap, was up at 4:30pm and was ready to head to tonight’s show around 6:30pm. But first, Sunshine uttered words I never thought I’d hear, “Let’s go to the mall for dinner first.” I guess the Westfield Shopping Centre is brand new, right near the venue, has a bunch of new restaurants and is the biggest mall in the UK. But I grew up a 10-minute drive from the biggest mall in America, so there.

We jump on the bus to Shepherd’s Bush and as we step on, it hits us like a punch in the face: the overbearing smell of urine. What the what?! Where is that coming fr…oh, right there. That homeless guy. Damn it was unbelievable – and apparently, something the Brits aren’t that used to. To me it just smells like the E train. But each person that walked onto the bus, immediately covered their nose, opened up windows, and outwardly complained. A group of teenage girls took it a step further, screaming and yelling about how bad it is until the driver stopped and forced the man off the bus.

We finally escaped the pee bus, grabbed a quick dinner at the mall, and then headed over to Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

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There were balcony level tickets and floor tickets. We were on the floor, where I like it. Thanks so much to Jeanne and Amy at EMI for hooking me up with these. I would imagine a Lily Allen ticket in London is a sought after ticket, especially considering how packed it was.

We checked our coats and grabbed a Tuborg, a difficult beer to order two of without sounding like you’re stuttering (try saying, “Two Tuborgs” in a loud club). Ten minutes later, Lily took the stage and the crowd went nuts. London loves Lily. A young 18+ London, mind you.

Somehow, we got stuck behind a fortress of tall people. I could see, but Sunshine couldn’t. This being my first ever show in London, I didn’t know what to expect. What would the crowd be like? Did people take pictures like in NY? Would people be dancing? Pissed drunk? Nice or rude about being jam packed together? The answer turned out to be all of the above. It was pretty much like a NY show, only with way more people take pictures with their cameras and phones.

I tried to push myself closer to the stage a few songs in, to try and snap off some shots, but was met with the same sort of resistance I get in NY. Halfway through I noticed a pocket open up, and move into it – putting us the middle of a sea of young people, dancing. But finally we could both see, and even though it was crowded, it was never all that annoying. Just fun.

Lily seemed to be enjoying herself, too. Thanking the crowd, it was nice to be back in London, pointing to and giving a shout out to her Mom up on the balcony level. She was feeling it. So was I, quite frankly. It was a blast. I don’t really listen to Lily that much, but it doesn’t matter. It was a fun show, in a great venue, on the first night of my vacation.

When it was over, the place cleared out slowly. We waited while hundreds mobbed the coat check, and in return for our patience, were rewarded with the best story of the night. Sunshine was in the bathroom when the Empire staff opened up a stall, and found a young woman on the toilet – completely passed out cold, unconscious. What do they do with her? What else? They laid her on the floor of the bathroom. Yes, on the floor of a bathroom at a rock club. Then, to add insult to injury, her friend began yelling, “Get the fuck up! Come on! Wake the fuck up!” She didn’t hear her

What a way to end a night.

3/26/09: ZigZag Quartet @ Trinity Church (63/100)

March 26th, 2009

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This is going to be a fast post because I gotta leave for the airport. But that’s fitting because I had to rush to get this show in over my lunch hour, so I didn’t miss a day while traveling. When I started this project, I subscribed to this service called Club Free Time. It’s a little more than $1/week to get a listing of free events around the city: concerts, speakers, walking tours, etc. Not the kind of stuff I am really seeing all that much, it’s more for the older (like, AARP) crowd. But it paid off for today’s show: ZigZag Quartet, 1pm, Trinity Church (Wall Street).

I jumped on the 1 train, got off at Rector, found the church and grabbed a seat, or a pew, if you will. The quartet was almost ready when I got there and running through a sound check. The church is beautiful, if you’ve never been. Definitely the most scenic venue I’ve been to so far. But I couldn’t totally enjoy the view, or the music, to be honest. No sooner than five minutes after I got there did I want to leave.

Come on….come on…come on…!

Start…start…start…!

Finish…finish…finish…!

I’m anxious, obviously. But gotta knock this one out. I check email, write down ideas in my notebook, check email again, send some emails, write down some more ideas. Finally, ZigZag are playing. Cool.

Not only does the Trinity Church look great, it sounds pretty amazing too. I know virtually nothing about classical music, so I can’t comment any further. Except to say the percussionist was a character, and the guitar player made me feel like I don’t even know how to play guitar. And did I mention how good it sounded? I think more churches should host rock bands, too. But then there’s the fact that people trash rock venues. Ok, bad idea.

They play….play….and play some more.

I wait…wait..and wait some more.

I check my watch for about the 100th time. Check my email for about the 1,000th time. Write down some more ideas for a project I have to write up before heading to the airport. Finally the band announces their last song. I snap off some photos, a couple with flash, get in trouble for doing so, head toward the back, wait for the final note, and run out the door.

See you in London.

3/25/09: Human Highway @ Le Poisson Rouge (62/100)

March 26th, 2009

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The day before going away is always stressful. There’s just too much shit to get done.

Last minute errands to run - mouthwash, kleenex, travel Splenda (pathetic, but I can’t live without this stuff). Finalize packing – underwear: check, socks: check, mini travel speakers that I’ll bring and never use: check. Apartment tidying up to do – bathroom: cleaned, dishes: done, cat: freaked out.

Now add having to this list, having to fit in a band and things just got plain annoying. That is unless I got to Le Poisson Rouge, walked in and noticed that it’s not super packed or hot or annoying. In fact, there were tables, chairs, a waitress and it’s all sophisticated-like. That I could handle.

I figured the show would be later on, so I could spend time after work doing all of the above. Then I got an email from Bekah at Suicide Squeeze records (who put me on the guest list, thanks so much Bekah), letting me know it’s an early show, with Cotton Jones going on at 8pm, followed by The Magic at 8:45pm and Human Highway at 9:15pm. Damn, it was almost 8pm when I got this, and I wasn’t ready to run over to LPR. Guess I’ll get there as soon as I can.

I managed to roll up to the club halfway through The Magic’s set. Bummed I missed Cotton Jones, but what can ya do. The Magic was good. Totally new to me, which is the best way to hear a band sometimes. They’re also Canadian, and have a lot of the same things going as other indie bands today: different members playing multiple instruments, each having some form of keys in front of them (analogs/synths), more than one singer, one of them female – that sort of thing. I like that sorta thing, just saying.

After The Magic finished their set, I took a seat near the stage, and waited for Human Highway. They didn’t take that long, but I was just feeling the “night before traveling” anxiousness, I guess. When they did take the stage, it was with some familiar faces from The Magic. Obviously necessary to reproduce HH’s record Moody Motorcycle live, since they’re only a two-piece.

For those who don’t know, Human Highway is a side project from Nicholas Thornburn (from the Canadian band Islands) and Jim Guthrie (Canadian singer/songwriter). They put out this record which was inspired by 50s/60s rock, doo-wop and soul. Just one of those fun, one-off records that hit me the right way at the right time.

Much like tonight’s show, which was early, chill and relaxing. Just like I needed tonight. They played the songs I wanted to hear off the record, even threw in a few covers, and I was out the door and back home before 11pm. A perfect way to end the night before heading out of town.

All I can think about tonight is:

Get me on the airplane and put me on a plane…Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane..

I wanna be on vacation…

3/24/09: Ed Kowalczyk (of Live) w/Marcus Congleton (of Ambulance LTD) @ City Winery (61/100)

March 25th, 2009

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Not sure what to say about this one to be honest. It was bizarre in many ways. Mostly due to Ed’s shirt, but more on that later.

First: The show was at City Winery, a new venue that opened up directly across the street from my work. Which is cool. It’s a cool spot where you can buy your own vat and make wine there, in the city. But it costs like $10k or something like that, so I’m not sure who’s doing that – especially in today’s economy. But they have a stage area, too and have been hosting live music, too. Which is cool.

Second: Tonight was a performance from two guys whose bands are/were nothing alike. Ed Kowalczyck, from the 90s band Live, and Marcus Congleton, from the a few years ago band Ambulance LTD. The only connection, I’m guessing, is they were both performing with acoustic guitars. Just not together.

Third: My friend Josh and I went to the show, and proceeded to get way too hammered for a Tuesday night. We started the night getting dinner and talking work. Split a bottle of wine at the show. Added another glass on top of that. Then went out afterwards for whiskey cocktails at Little Branch and tallboy PBRs at Village Tavern after that. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but wtf?!

What I should have done is gone home and packed for my trip, maybe picked up the apartment a little. Oh wait, I did that. Ok, not the cleaning up part, but I did wake up this morning with a wicked hangover…and a fully packed bag. Oh yeah, I sort of remember doing that.

Is it weird to pack your bag 2 days before leaving on a trip? Maybe, but when your spare time doesn’t come often, and is usually late at night, you do what you can, when you can. Either that or I just can’t wait to get the fuck out of Dodge.

Oh, right. The music. Sorry.

The music wasn’t bad. Marcus was good. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, and never without his band Ambulance LTD. Way back when they played at places like the now-defunct Sin-e. Back when I wrote up a review of their original EP for a music website. Back when I was out seeing music, and writing about music. The time I wanted to get back in touch with, and what inspired this project. So, I’m glad he played. But I can’t say that many others in the audience shared that feeling, since not many seemed to know who he was. They were there for their boy Ed, the guy from Live who’s last name I can never spell right, and Josh kept thinking was Kowalksi.

I couldn’t care less about Ed though to be honest. I never liked his band, but whatever. The venue was good, Marcus was good and the Rioja was good. Ed’s shirt on the other hand. That was a bad choice. So was him starting off with “I Alone” I thought. You seriously want to just jump right in with that one? Ok, but it seems a bit of premature if you ask me. But the crowd loved it, so I guess he knows what he’s doing.

Josh used to like Live, he said. Which is fine. He and I only see eye-to-eye on music half the time. I make fun of him for liking Third Eye Blind. He makes fun of me liking math rock. Which is funny because halfway through the night, not even he could deny the lameness of the show – and summed it up nicely when he said, “This is like watching an old movie you used to really like, and then you watch it again and realize it’s not as good.”

Nicely put. We’ll end on that.

3/23/09: Les Paul @ Iridium Jazz Club (60/100)

March 24th, 2009

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I haven’t been touched by greatness, I’ve been flicked off by it. By the man, the myth, the fucking legend who invented the solid body electric guitar:

Les Paul.

As Les and his trio began their set tonight, they announced that it was ok to take pictures. So I walked near the stage, Les saw me coming, and gave me a picture worth taking. After the show, I met Les and he signed my written record of this project. I told him what I was doing. His eyes lit up like all of the other bands I’ve told after they performed. Then he signed,”Good luck Nick!” (see pic). Which is awesome.

Listen, this man is 94 years old, so you’d think he’d heard it all at this point. I mean, he was alive during the Great Depression – you know, the first one. He was a teenager then. How’s that for a mindfuck? Poor guy has had to live through two of them. But something tells me he’s doing fine now. But I digress.

I also told him how my favorite guitar that I own is my Les Paul. That’s like telling Thomas Edison that you really like the light bulb. It’s that significant. Think about it. This man paved the way for every other band after him – every band I’ve seen in this whole project up until now, and every one after. Hell, every band I’ve ever seen in my life. If they play a solid body electric, that’s because of Les Paul.

Seriously, I’m sorry to harp on this, but how often will you come into contact with someone who invented something that completely changed the world? There just aren’t inventors like him around anymore. Everything has been done now, it seems. Ok, maybe not digitally. Something will come around that is the next Google or Facebook. But even those are not as important as the electric guitar – at least, not as far as I’m concerned.

They don’t make ‘em like Les anymore. He’s nearly 94 years old, and still playing two sets (8 & 10pm), every Monday night. EVERY. MONDAY. NIGHT. Then, after the 10 o’clock set, he often hangs around to meet everyone who wants to meet him. He’ll take pictures and autograph anything. Meaning he’s not getting home and getting to bed until maybe 2am.

How’s that for showmanship? Un-fucking-believable

I had seen Les once before for my birthday. My girlfriend Sunshine surprised me a few years ago. She knew how I loved my Les Paul guitar, and that I really wanted to see him before he wasn’t around anymore. So she got me one of the greatest birthday gifts ever. At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. Just figured it was one of those things you do once. But then this project came around, and I knew I had to make him a part of it. Now I wish I could go see him every Monday night.

What a trip Les Paul is on stage. You just have to see him to understand the kind of performer he is. Not only with the guitar, but with the audience. Put kindly, he’s a dirty old man of jazz and rock and roll. But he can get away with it because, a) He’s Les Paul, and b) He’s almost 94 years old.

So when he introduced Nikki, the new, pretty bass player in his trio as a “great ass…um, asset.” Thensays the Les Paul Trio is now the “less balls trio” and he tells Nikki that she can play with his pacemaker anytime, you just laugh – because that’s Les being Les. And then when he starts playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and it is possibly the best version you’ve ever heard in your life, you just smile – because that’s Les Paul being Les Paul.

Thanks Les. For flicking me off. For one of the greatest inventions of all time. For playing every Monday night. And for hanging around long enough to meet me and sign my book. I hope to see you again soon.

DC101 interview posted on the Internets

March 23rd, 2009

The interview I did with Whitney and Roche from the rock radio station DC101 is posted here:

http://dc101.com/pages/podcasts.html

It’s a part of their “Off-Air w/ Roche & Whitney.” It was a lot of fun. Roche tried to hate on me for taking donations, but in the end I killed him with my Minnesota nice.

I will post it to the PRESS section once I get my copy of it.