Posts tagged ‘R.E.M.’

What I learned in 100 Days

May 5th, 2009

Here goes: the last and final “What I learned…” post. But this time, for the whole 100 days.

This is the most exciting time in music that I’ve ever experienced
And I grew with Motley Crue, Guns ‘n Roses, R.E.M. Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. These are all legendary, amazing bands. But I’m telling you – right now this is the most exciting time in music. At least for my generation and those younger than me. Here’s why.

The old music model is broken, but that’s okay: the power has shifted to the artist. The Internet is killing majors, but fuck majors. You don’t need them. But bands need you, now more than ever. Bands may not make any money selling records, but they never did anyways. Fans have the power to keep music alive by simply going to see live music, buying merchandise (and yes, records) directly from bands. This has never been more true than ever before. Fans have direct access to more music than any other time in music.

Some might say there’s no quality control anymore. But fuck that. You are the quality controller. You decide. Any band that has access to a computer can record a song, put it on the Internet and let the people decide if it’s any good or not. That’s exciting because there’s more of it, and you can decide what’s worth your time.

Not only that, but look at the music itself. Take the genre of “indie rock” for example. Listen, I hate genre monikers like this (remember “alternative rock”?) but it’s exciting when one “genre” can be as diverse as to include bands like Belle & Sebastian, Matt and Kim, Sufjan Stevens, Feist and Blitzen Trapper, alongside Animal Collective, N.E.R.D., Kings of Leon, The Avett Brothers, Of Montreal, Bell Orchestre, Black Lips, Wolff, and Wilco.

The ’60s sounded like revolution. The ’70s sounded like rock and disco. The ’80s sounded like pop, new wave, DIY and glam. And the ’90s sounded like grunge and hip hop. So what does the ’00s sound like? All of the above and them some. And that’s pretty damn exciting

People like to see other people do things they couldn’t imagine themselves doing
People remained curious about this project from beginning to end. At first, I think they wanted to know about the music. Later when they asked me, “How’s the project coming?” I think what they really meant was, “How the hell are you still awake or alive or sane?

People like being a part of something
This goes for all the friends who joined me on the journey, the musicians, PR contacts, managers, etc who I met, plus the random people who emailed me and generous people who sent donations. When I started out, I hoped a lot of my friends would go to some shows with me, but I figured I’d do most of it alone. Boy was I wrong. Friends came out of the woodwork for this, and it was awesome.

I also tried to meet as many musicians as I could. I would approach them after their set to tell them what I was doing. About 98% of the time the response was really great. A few musicians blew me off, but fuck them. They were too self-involved anyhow, so who cares. I got to meet some great people. And they were as happy to be a part of it as I was to be doing it. See The Wrens entry for an example of how happy.

As you know I also took donations. These were not only a way to help me get through the 100 days, but for everyone to get involved and feel apart of the 100 days. Some were as small as $1, some got as big as $200 or $250, but I appreciated them all equally.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to get on a lot of guest lists. Sometimes that was a result of me unabashedly requesting it, but more often than not they were offered up by different contacts I made, or people who contacted me along the way. The generosity of PR folks, band members, band managers, label people and so on was helpful, humbling and appreciated.

The band (almost always) starts an hour after the venue says they will
Keep this in mind if you’re going to see a show in NYC, at the Bowery or Mercury for example. If they say the band goes on at 8pm, they actually go on around 9pm – or later. This is just how it is, at least in NY. Why? Alcohol.

Venues want to get you in and sell you as many overpriced drinks as they can before you notice that you’re waiting for the band to start. And they’ve gotten pretty good at timing it out. Which meant I got pretty good at timing when I needed to show up. Unless I wanted to see the opening bad, then I was screwed.

But, there are a few exceptions:

The “Early show”
These is the show before the show that’s scheduled to bring in the real crowd that night. The doors for these shows are usually at 6:30pm or 7:00pm, and the bands tend to start 30 minutes after they say they will.

Europe
Shows start on time in Europe. I learned this one the hard way when I missed Ben Lee at La Fleche d’Or. But it wasn’t just France. Shows in England started at or near the listed time, too. Just a word to the wise if you’re gonna see a show in Europe.

Random, unforeseen bullshit
You show up hoping to see the band that starts at 10pm only to find out that they pulled out and aren’t playing. Or their timeslot got swapped with the band at 9pm. Or the band that was supposed to play at 8pm didn’t show up, and so each band got bumped up an hour. All of these happened to me, and it pissed me off, but what can you do?

Beer is only as good as the tap it comes out of
I drank a lot of beer over 100 days, which is why I’m not drinking any for another month or two. But I didn’t do this for me. I did it for you, the readers. Ok, that’s what I tell myself. But either way, I did it, and now I’m here to report back.

Here is your guide to the best/worst beer taps in NYC: (from worst to best)

Mercury Lounge: Shitty
The PBR is the worst, but it’s also the cheapest, which makes it tempting. Don’t do it. It tastes and smells terrible. The Bud Light is ok, but I would step it up if you’re at the Merc.

Bowery Ballroom: Just ok
Stella isn’t bad here, but can be a bit average, and lose some of the sweetness it should have. And it’s $7, which is bullshit, so they should clean the taps and figure a way of making it worth the price.

Webster Hall: Not bad
Plastic cups suck, but the beer wasn’t bad.

Pianos: Pretty Good
I drank mostly PBR cans at Pianos, but the times that I drank from the tap, I got a Stella and it was pretty decent – mostly because it comes in a glass, not a plastic cup.

The Bell House: Good
Didn’t really drink too much from the tap here, the cans are too cheap ($4), but the one time I did, it was good.

Cake Shop: Good
The music room may be a dive, but the tap beer is good.

Rockwood Music Hall: Good
Pretty decent, but I’d suggest getting a glass of wine instead. They pour them pretty deep.

Music Hall of Williamsburg: Very good
Probably because it’s new, but all the beer I drank here was good.

Le Poisson Rouge: Very good
I hate the stupid mandatory 20% tip if you use your card at LPR, but it’s a new enough venue that the beers come out of the tap tasting delicious.

Joe’s Pub: Excellent
It’s a nicer and more expensive venue, so naturally, they care about their bar.

Going to shows alone isn’t as bad as it seems
Before this project, I would go see a band alone, but not that often. And I’d feel sorry for myself, and hate that I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and waaaaahh waaaaahh waaaaahh… Then I realized, seeing a band can be like seeing a movie. Once it begins, being alone is fine. You shouldn’t be talking during the music anyhow. Granted, some bands are a lot more fun to see with friends. But don’t let the fact that no one else wants to go keep you from going. Just go.

Get to know unknown bands
It’s only natural to want to blow off bands you’ve never heard of before. You’ve never heard them, so why would you care? That is, unless you need to see music every single night, like I did. And sometimes there’s a night where you don’t know who to see, so you have to pick a band at random – as I did. And you know what you’d find out? It’s worth taking chances on unknown bands.

Music will never cease to amaze me
The fact that I can find live music in downtown Hartford, CT on a random Monday night amazes me. How I can still see Les Paul, the 93-year old man who invented the solid body electric guitar, every Monday night, have him flick me off for a picture and meet him afterwards amazes me. The fact that I can be asked on stage to perform with a band that’s been together for over 20 years, to a sold out crowd in NYC amazes me. And the fact that I can see 100 consecutive days of live music and still love music amazes me.

Thanks for reading. Now do yourself a favor and go buy a ticket to see a band, right now.

4/18/09: Bear Hands w/Real Estate & The Tony Castles @ The Shank (86/100)

April 19th, 2009

Picture 1 of 3

This was a day of music from beginning to end.

First, I met up with a woman named Lucette who’s helping launch a website called Superglued.com. It’s in private beta right now, but when it launches, it will be a central hub for music fans to write about their concert experiences. Seemed like a cool idea to me. She wanted to talk me about the 100 bands project and filmed a quick interview with me for the site – asking about my favorite show of the project so far, and of all time. I picked Wilco & R.E.M. in 1999 for all time. I don’t know if it is my favorite all-time show or not, but it was an amazing show/overall experience. I met Tweedy. It poured rain. They had to cancel the show due to lightning, and I walked back to the car completely soaked. It was magical. But truthfully, picking one isn’t really that possible.

img_4487

After that, I remembered it was record store day – one day I make a point to buy music from a mom and pop music store. Like going to church on Christmas in hopes that you won’t go to hell (yet, knowing Hell doesn’t really exist). So I buzzed over to Other Music to see what exclusive singles they’d have on sale. Here’s what I picked up: Crystal Antlers “Tentacles”, Condo Fucks “Fuckbook” and an exclusive Record Store Day Blitzen Trapper 45, called “War is Placebo”. They also had different band members doing DJ sets all day, like guys from Grizzly Bear, the Raveonettes, and even Bill Callahan doing a live acoustic performance. I would’ve liked to see that, but already had plans to meet my friend Ben at The Shank in Brooklyn to see Bear Hands, and a bunch of other bands.

The Shank is another one of those “semi-legal” venues, like L.A.M.C. and Death by Audio. It’s out, sort in the middle of nowhere in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and from what I gather, it’s a sound stage for TV and films by day. Underground indie rock venue by night. They were selling Colt 45 tallboys out of a cooler, people were smoking freely and there were makeshift benches set up to hang out in between sets.

I rolled up around 9:45, just in time to see the first band finish their set. I was supposed to be on the guest list, but wasn’t. No big deal. I paid my $10, and had to spot Ben another $4 since he was supposed to be my plus one. (he’s a broke grad student, and former drummer in the band I played in)

img_4502

Second band of the night, but first full set for me was by a band called The Tony Castles. Terrible name. Good band. I couldn’t quite figure out where they were pulling their sound from, influence-wise. It sounded like some Talking Heads, but with a falsetto voice instead. Either way, they were starting the night off pretty solid.

After them was a band called Real Estate, sort of a snoozer, with more moments of “meh” than “yeah.” It’s not all their fault. In their defense, the sound isn’t awesome at The Shank, at least not for vocals. They get strangely muffled. “It’s like we’re at an arena,” said Ben. Exactly. The guitars sounded good (behind earplugs, of course), just not the vocals.

img_4512

Either realizing this, or just by some stroke of luck, Real Estate changed gears and played about a half hour of straight instrumental songs. Which weren’t half bad. And they ended on a solid pop song. Not a terrible set overall.

The Shank never got super packed, which was nice. Yet, it was still hot as hell in there. And it definitely had an “out in the middle of nowhere” vibe since it’s surrounded by a bunch of warehouses, and there’s a guy guarding the door who won’t let you stand outside the door. “You gotta walk if you’re gonna talk,” said the man. The bathroom floor/carpet was soaked in water from a busted pipe connected (or, not connected) to the sink. So, no chance of washing your hands after you do your business. Not ideal.

Ben and I knocked back a few Colt 45s throughout the night. Officially the first malt liquor I’ve had since probably college, maybe high school. And it wasn’t that bad. Better than Mickeys or O.E., that’s for damn sure.

The last and final band, Bear Hands, went on just before midnight or so. I think, but not sure. Being at The Shank is like being in the Twilight Zone. You lose all sense of time and place. The Colt 45s don’t help, either. But let’s just assume it was around midnight, since the receipt from my taxi ride home after said 1:58am.

img_4543

Bear Hands were good. They didn’t blow me away. But they didn’t stink it up either. The singer played the whole set shirtless (um, ok). He even took a song into the crowd at the end. I can appreciate that. The one thing I’ll nail them on though is the whole floor tom used by the guitar player thing. Damnit. Not another band doing that. Especially since it didn’t really add much to the sound and seemed more like a prop than anything. I’m getting really tired of it. Where is it coming from? It’s one thing if you’re Animal Collective, and Panda Bear is actually a skilled percussionist. It’s another to just use a floor tom in a superfluous way.

But to each band their own, I say. Ok, I never say that. Nor should anyone else. It’s a stupid phrase that doesn’t really work. But the Shank does, if you want to drink cheap beer, see upcoming indie bands, and feel like you’re at some exclusive place in the middle of nowhere. Just remember to pack the Purell.

4/16/09: Rhett Miller @ Le Poisson Rouge (84/100)

April 17th, 2009

Picture 1 of 6

I’m tired as hell today. Sort of like the first few weeks. But this is the homestretch. Gotta finish strong. Only a little over two weeks left. And while I love the project, and will probably miss it, I do want my life back. Even if it means I’ll be just another regular person who goes to shows every so often. Wait, that can’t happen. That’s the whole point of this thing – to get out there, and make sure I continue to see more shows. Shows like Rhett Miller on a Thursday night at Le Poisson Rouge.

But before I go into that, what the fuck is up with Le Poisson Rouge lately? I like this place, but they keep giving me reasons to hate it. First there was the mandatory 20% gratuity when using a card to pay for drinks back at the Glass Candy show. Now they’re charging $30 for a Rhett Miller solo acoustic show? Really? No offense, but Rhett’s no Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy I would pay $30 for (and more). Ok, in fairness to LPR, that included the bullshit online fee – but still.

And what’s up with the big beefy security lining the edges of the stage now? Do they seriously have to rig up a velvet rope off the side of the stage? First off, is that really going to keep someone from running onto the stage and molesting the artist? And secondly, it’s just Rhett and his guitar, what’s going to happen? Half the crowd would pull a hammy if they tried.

Speaking of which, this was the most unattractive crowd of the entire 84 days. I don’t know why, and I don’t really care. But just thought I should point that out. It was old and ugly. Shit, I was there too. Damnit.

Ok, so Rhett Miller. The singer/songwriter from the Old 97’s. The alt-country band I used to love. I still do I guess, just don’t really listen to them that much anymore. I like Rhett’s solo work, but have to admit I was looking forward to hearing mostly 97’s songs. I wasn’t disappointed. And he’s funny, self-deprecating, and gives it his all. Sweating all over the place, beating the hell out of the strings of his guitar, shaking his sweaty head around, jumping up and down – and so on.

Which is nice considering he’s just a guy stand on a stage with an acoustic guitar, in a solo spotlight – could’ve been dreadfully dull. But he made sure that didn’t happen. Throughout the set he said “This is a song request from Twitter.” Which I originally took as joke since he’s a smart ass. But he kept saying it, so maybe it wasn’t a joke? He was also taking requests from the crowd, saying once: “I’ll play your song, but that doesn’t make me a whore. All the sex on the street for money, that makes me a whore.” Reminding me of the sense of humor I share with friends of mine. This guy’s alright by me.

Although, I was a bit annoyed by some of the people in the crowd tonight. A lot seemed like the types who don’t go to a lot of shows, so they were violating some standard show etiquette: don’t continually bump into me dancing and say “Sorry.” Just stop bumping into me. And don’t push me out of the way so you can take my place. That sort of thing. But to be fair, I got to shows every night, so I’m a bit hyper sensitive to this sort of thing.

Toward the end of Rhett’s set he mentioned how he recently played the R.E.M. tribute show at Carnegie Hall (yet failed to use the standard “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke), at which he played the song “Driver 8.” So he played it again tonight and it was great. I taught myself to play guitar in college by playing R.E.M. songs, and will hopefully one day thank Peter Buck for “teaching” me guitar. So that was a nice touch.

But it also made me realize that he hadn’t played the one song I was hoping he would: “Oppenheimer.” It was still a great show. During the encore he riffed about how LPR was at a French-named club, and then played a verse and chorus from “Question” in French. So have to give him props on that. And for making my tired old, 84th day in a row ass happy that I shelled out the $30 to see him tonight.