Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors’ music is rife with humor. e.g., the song “Useful Chamber,” where angelic harmonies are repeatedly bombarded with BOWM-BUD-UMP bass & drums like water balloons dropped from the roof. Hee-hee. The songs are quirky, they’re playful. Not broadly comedic, but arch & amusing.

& executed with force & precision, I hasten to add. The band’s chops only emphasize the deliberateness of the eccentricity. All those abrupt changes in key, time signature, dynamic, & texture are sure-footed & emphatically on-purpose. The shit is delightful!

Last July I saw Dirty Projectors at the Independent on Divis. Mid-show, in a spontaneous outburst from the back of the room, somebody shouted out “I LOVE you guys!” The crowd laughed in agreement & recognition: once you allow this music to take you where it’s going, the result is exuberance.

Which makes the band’s stoic stage presence a little puzzling. Amber Coffman does smile from time to time, but Angel Deradoorian is downright pensive onstage. Meanwhile Dave Longstreth gives every indication of occupying an isolated little world all his own, & the whole band usually looks at least a little… I don’t know, worried or something.

Hey, I get that it can take some serious focus to execute these complex & intricate songs, sure! But Dave’s response to that shouted outburst was 1st bewildered & then merely perfunctory, albeit polite. I don’t mean to be critical. Believe me, I’m right there with that guy in the back of the room: I, too, LOVE these guys. It’s just that we’re all having so much fun down here on the floor & sometimes I wonder if they’re missing out up there on the stage. Like, Hey, Dirty Projectors! It’s a party & you’re invited too! Bartender, another round s’il vous plait.

Anyway, Dirty Projectors are playing this Sunday night at Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach. It will be my third time seeing them this year. Look for me --I’ll be that old guy right down in front of the stage.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Gossip

Regency Ballroom, San Francisco, October 25, 2009

As expected, the crowd at the Gossip was very queer, very hipster. Everyone was fabulous. Everyone. & plus I’m going to go on record saying I have never, ever seen a mohawk look bad on a lesbian. Quote me all you like on that one.

So, when the houselights FUCKING FINALLY go dark, the band comes out drums, then bass, then guitar, & they vamp for a short bit & the crowd is avid & enthusiastic. Then, out comes Beth Ditto with shocking Ziggy-orange hair & singing Dimestore Diamond & the entire Regency Ballroom instantly loses its collective mind, screaming & crying & falling in hysterics. I kid you not, this was adulation right out of the gate. Before the night was over, more than one young lady had removed garments from her own self & passed them up to the stage including, at one point, a pair of black lace panties. Yeah, it was that kind of a night.

& the love was fully reciprocated. Beth sang every song from the absolute edge of the stage, reaching down & touching as many of the assembled supplicants as possible. Singing to them, caressing hands & arms, waxing affectionate between songs about how magical & wonderful it is that we’re all queer & we’re all here together in San Francisco & what an honor it is to be here & thank you for having me I mean it. In all candor, it was so sincere & heartfelt that I found myself getting more than a little caught up in it all.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that the band rocks. Good drummer, great bass player, and fantastic guitar player. Brace Paine (I can’t tell if that’s his punk rock name or his real name) is the guitarist, & his rhythm chops are really just all that. His playing is very fast, very very tight, but also he just has a tremendous amount of grace, style, & well, finesse. Structurally, this is basically a punk band w/variations, & some of the songs are in a classic hardcore mode. So it’s not as if Mr. Paine needs to resort to much subtlety, but it’s there if you listen for it. I also appreciate that he can & frequently does funk it up good, too.

OK but really? Is anyone other than me in this room listening with that critical of an ear? Because Beth really IS the show here. She owns the room & you know what? She earns it every single moment. Beth has an enormous voice, overwhelming even. Her singing is very Tina Turner in tone, timbre, overall dynamic approach. But I only say that for need of a descriptor, bc what she does is not derivative, it’s all her own, & it is a force of nature. Like a god damn hurricane. Oh, & she apologized early in the show bc she’s getting over a cold & so she’s hoarse. Good god, I can’t even imagine how she performs when she’s at the top of her game!

OK, so Beth is awesome. What’s nice is that Beth is also actually very humble, & has a great sense of the history that precedes her. She gave props to Sleater-Kinney, she covered Bikini Kill (!). For the 1st encore, she came out & covered Tina Turner, & I actually found that kind of moving, in a way I’m not really able to explain quite yet.

OK, & then Beth did something I’ve never seen before. The show was clearly over, houselights were on, & the band was done & gone. & Beth comes back out on stage all alone, she makes a little speech about what a pioneer Freddie Mercury was, & then she leads the crowd in a rousing chorus of “We Are the Champions.” Yes, I am fully cognizant of how hokey this sounds in the light of day, but Wow that was a fucking Moment. & I will remember it always.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

4 Songs per Hour

Not to disparage my friends & family --all fine people, open-minded & frequently indulgent of what I think is appropriate party music. But let’s face it: there’s a lot of Noisy shit on my iPod that’s just not easy to love. & all of it needs to be played loud or not at all. So, alone in the car is where much of my best listening occurs.

Just so you know, I do actually listen to normal music like, you know, a normal person. But I’ve got this one playlist full of the kind of music that, way back when, we used to fondly call Difficult Listening. Total length of this mix is like six hours, even though there are only about 25 songs on it. “Songs.” heh.

Anyway, I’m going to write about some of these crazy pieces here pretty soon. 1st though, I’m still trying to figure out how to get the JW Player loaded up onto the site. [Clatter having no IT Dept, I have to try to figure this kind of shit out on my own.] The idea though, is to have a couple hundred words about, e.g., “The Diamond Sea” by Sonic Youth (& I mean the Alternate Ending version from the Destroyed Room album, which runs over 25 minutes), along with the song posted right there. So you can conveniently hear what I’m talking about without having to hunt it down. That will be cool, right?

So, yeah, my mix for driving alone in the car is entitled 4 Songs per Hour, & the average piece there actually is about 15 minutes long. The usual suspects are there, but also e.g., some of Robert Fripp’s more out there stuff, Miles Davis from when he got good & psychedelic, Neil Young getting all feedbacky on his soundtrack to the Dead Man movie, some great old African stuff like Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour & cetera –it’s pretty much the works. I like to set it to shuffle, then discover what I’m going to hear next.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting Into Girls.

It used to be kind of a *thing* that White Stripes only had two members. It was novel, right? Then came Black Keys, then the Kills, the Ting Tings, um, Tenacious D (does that count)? Anyway, is it lately starting to seem like duos are becoming more of a normal thing? Within a couple of days just this week, I’ve heard about three new 2-member bands: (1) Sleigh Bells; (2) Acrylics; and (3) Girls.

I like Girls. Girls are actually 2 boys whose band is called Girls, & their album is called: “Album.” Irony: I stumbled across them on the web, but it turns out they’re locally-grown, right here in our own San Francisco. Not that I get out enough to be in the know re: up-&-coming bands in my own backyard, but I’m working on that. Anyhoo, the buzz has officially commenced for Girls. I see them getting reviewed now on a bunch of blogs & on Pitchfork, but also Village Voice, & even NY Times is enthused.

So, I’m listening to “Album,” and I’m really thinking I could get into Girls. “Album was not recorded in any studio,” its liner notes proudly proclaim. Well, duh. Album was evidently recorded in bedrooms & wherever, & it more or less sounds like that. This is not a criticism. I have great fondness for the lo-fi, low-tech, DIY approach in general. Here, it’s actually a big part of why I’m really getting into Girls.

Here’s the thing: these boys in Girls are some truly great songwriters. No shit, they can really craft the pop hooks, like I find myself singing along to the 2nd chorus when it’s only the 1st time I’ve ever heard the song. So, yeah, it’s way catchy. So much so, that Album could easily have been just too saccharine & cute & pretty for its own good. I’m just saying. BUT, this is not the way of Album, no.

As written, the songs on Album are clean, i.e., unadorned, um *economical* maybe even. There’s no unnecessary explaining in the lyrics, there’s nothing extraneous in the chords. The songs, they are tight. But the *production* of Album takes an exactly opposite approach: the sound is cluttered with random effects & noises & colors. There’s lots of distortion, there’s lots of reverb, there are a lot of sonic layers muddying up these otherwise squeaky songs. Net effect? These very good Girls are getting good & dirty. Which, empirically, is just hot go ahead tell me I’m wrong.

Oh, & the arrangements are utterly unafraid of occasional excess. So while, on some songs, Girls get in & get out wham bam, on others they really take their time veering off on some exploratory tangent. So, e.g., Track 2 “Laura” is basically finished at 3:00 on the dot, but continues on for another 1:51 for no reason other than to groove on the chords, & noodle around a bit on the keyboard & the bass. & why the hell not? It’s a great song, & it’s just NICE to be able to savor it a little longer. I mean, what’s the hurry?

I see on their website that they’re going to be playing here at home very soon. Fri 11/20 at Swedish American Hall (I think that’s actually just part of CafĂ© du Nord, right?), and then the next night at Bottom of the Hill. I think I need to seriously check out Girls on one of those nights. Who’s in?

Here's a video, although it's not the best song on Album:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A couple of things, right up front.

One: Please just assume that the subject matter of this, my blog is swear words, OK?

It’s actually not, but just so you know I am actually a fairly epic fan of swear words and of their gratuitous deployment. As in, I am definitely not one of these people who saves up the swear-word-usage for special occasions, so when they swear you totally know how really, really pissed off they are I’m serious I’ve never heard him use that kind of language before holy wow I can’t believe it look out.

No. It’s definitely not like that with me. The profanity, the scatology, the sacrilege, these are my Plan-A, go-to modifiers. So this is your fair warning, OK? I’m actually kind of holding back right now, so if you’re offended by that kind of thing, just don’t read this, my blog. Because I’m not going to apologize for it & besides you’ve now been alerted. You can go ahead & consider this like my Parental Advisory sticker. Ok, so that’s out of the way.

The actual, intended subject matter here is music I’m listening to right now today. OK, but before getting to that here is the second of the up-front-things.

Two: Here is a cautionary tale for you people in your, like, late 20s & early 30s. One day very soon you are going to wake up and have No. Fucking. Idea. What’s going on in popular music. It’s not going to be a gradual thing. It’s just all of a sudden: you’ll know nothing whatsoever about all the bands that are selling out at the clubs & other smallish venues you used to attend so regularly. & at the same time you’ll be *astonished* to realize that the music you’ve been listening to all along has –overnight– become a big, expensive exercise in NOSTALGIA. When you want to get out to see & hear a band you know & love, it will cost you hundreds of dollars to sit politely in a stadium and watch the show on a giant video screen surrounded by OLD people, one of whom you will have suddenly & inexplicably become. Holy fucking shit, you will say. When-slash-How did this happen to me?

I hear you snickering: “ha ha that old blogger is so funny for, surely, this would never happen to me since I have always been & therefore ever shall be so fucking cool. The vanguard of popular culture is my birthright, my province, indeed my domain.” Hey you, young(ish) people: this is probably the only warning you are ever going to get. That wolf at (y)our doorstep is Cultural Obsolescence. Beware. Heed its snarl.

Anyway, that brings us to the final one of the up-front-things.

Three: My rhetorical stance here is not of the smarty-pants variety. I make no claim to being in the know. I’m not smarter than you, I’m not cooler than you and, in all certitude I am not nowadays prettier or thinner than you (god damn it). I just love the music is all. I love it & I love that singular thrill of discovery. Of hearing something surprising & new & challenging, of becoming abruptly enamored of something previously unheard-of. So, I fully intend to wax euphoric here on this, my blog about whatever band or song I just now discovered. & I’ll ask you to please don’t sneer over how you’ve known about that band forEVER & where the fuck have I been? Because I do have this like whole other life to lead, & bands & songs & whole genres can & frequently do elude my notice. This will happen to you, too (see point no. 2, supra), so let’s help each other out, yeah?

Because we’re all friends here & no prizes are being awarded. So let’s just listen. & you know, talk about it. Thanks for being here.