Finicky Ears

The Big Pink/Crystal Antlers @ Detroit Bar – 11/20/09, Costa Mesa, CA

Posted in Live Reviews by finickyears on November 27, 2009

I purposely decided not to buy my ticket for The Big Pink in advance. Though I risked running into a sellout, the fact is that I never want to be at Detroit Bar during a sellout. I saw Deerhunter in these conditions a few months back and they simply do not have the space to accommodate large crowds. But when the crowd is moderate, like it was last Friday, Detroit Bar can be an excellent place to check out bands without having to go to L.A. But, even though the evening provided an intimate and enthusiastic showcase for a band playing only their second American show EVER, the crowd was ultimately reminded of the major drawback in playing a small room.

The Big Pink present themselves as a band much more experienced than their resume reads. Their debut album is only a couple of months old (the quite good A Brief History of Love), but already they feel obliged to bring strobe lights, smoke machines and lasers. And, indeed, in their brief existence they have opened for the likes of Muse and TV on the Radio in Europe. These tricks that most bands take a while to grow into fit The Big Pink perfectly, invoking both new wave and industrial influences that are readily apparent on record. However, one of the unfortunate things about this show was the emphasis on the crunching guitars and lack of strong synthesizer sound. This is one of the drawbacks of seeing this band in such a small room. Not only was synthesizer too low in the mix, but the use of live drums drowned out what little of it you could here. This is sad because this is the major appeal of The Big Pink.

The Big Pink did bring some pretty rad jams to the table, though. “Velvet” and “Dominos” (the show closer) were the clear fan favorites, but I was more impressed by two songs I hadn’t really paid much attention to previously. Album closer “Count Backwards from Ten” was a revelation with its slow and steady build and the suprising effectiveness of its “better off dead” chorus. And “Tonight” seemed like it should be this band’s most well know song. It actually benefited from the heavier guitars and found the band at its loosest and most fun.

And one brief note, who the hell was the guy who really wanted to hear “Dominos.” In fact, he wanted to hear it so badly that he felt the need to make really annoying sounds when the band got quiet and make obnoxious imitations of lead singer Robbie Furze. You, sir, are a tool and a main reason I want to see this band at a bigger venue, where assholes like you fade into the background.

All in all, a promising debut from a band that will be interesting to watch develop.

Here are The Big Pink’s videos for “Velvet” and “Dominos”

Crystal Antlers provided support. I had seen them before and was not a big fan, but I have to admit they have improved in the last year. But, they still seem pretty pedestrian (except for that pretty awesome bonus percussion dude) and cannot hold my interest for more than three songs. But I am not going to write these guys (and girl) off. It seemed like they were as big of a draw as The Big Pink, so really, what do I know?

Enjoy my photos from the show!

Visit The Big Pink here!

Visit Crystal Antlers here!

Purchase music from both of these bands at Insound!

I guess their first U.S. show wasn’t that great.

Visit The Detroit Bar here!

The Dutchess and The Duke @ Cross Cultural Center – 11/13/09, Irvine, CA

Posted in Live Reviews by finickyears on November 15, 2009

This is the first cool thing I have ever heard of happening in Irvine. UCI apparently has a group of people known as Acrobatics Everyday who have been throwing legitimate indie shows for a couple years now, so far off the radar that on Friday (the 13!) I felt like 1/3 of the audience were passerbys who heard the lovely harmonies coming from the small hall. All in all, only about 40 people turned out for this show, but those who were cool enough to know that these things even went on were treated to a relaxed and intimate showcase of two singers who are consistently better than the sum of their parts.

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I had previously seen The Dutchess and The Duke at The Echo as the opening band for Fleet Foxes (to digress, that was Fleet Foxes first full tour and TD&TD hadn’t even released their debut yet: INCREDIBLE show!). After that show, it took me nearly a year to track down their album. Then, a couple weeks ago, I decided to order the debut LP on vinyl, but was shipped their new album, Sunset/Sunrise, by mistake. Normally, I would have sent it back promptly, but I was so excited to hear this new record that I kept it. That being said, I also made the decision to not listen to the new record until after I had seen them perform. There is something profoundly special about hearing songs for the first time at a show. Songs like “Phantom Limb” by The Shins and “The General Specific” by Band of Horses will always be tied to the live performances at which I was introduced to them.

Full disclosure: I forgot to bring my camera. So, it was some small consolation that the classroom/hall was not lit whatsoever, except for one intensely bright light that the band refused to have shine on them. It was dark enough that you wouldn’t recognize the band if you saw them smoking outside after the show. In fact, I was pretty sure “The Duke”, Jesse Lortz, was working the merchandise booth after show, but I had enough doubt to not say anything to him.

The band opened with “Back to Me” from their first record (the disadvantage of me not listening to the album prior to the show is that my reporting of the new material is going to be a little shoddy) and then played three more in a row from the debut record, including “Out of Time” and “Reservoir Park”. The biggest complement I can pay to this group is to note the power that comes when the two sing together. It was chill-inducing on numerous occasions. And, this is a welcome change from the first time I saw them, when they could have been called (The Dutchess) and The Duke, with Kimberley Morrison seeming to take more of a backup role. The least successful parts of the show were when one singer would take over lead vocals by themselves, in particular when Morrison sang solo for one of the new album tracks.

Then there’s “I Am Just a Ghost.”

(Here’s is a video someone took of “I Am Just a Ghost” from the P4k festival) 

With bands of little commercial success, it is hard to gauge which songs are likely to be played at a show. So, when TD&TD announced that they had three songs left to play, I resorted to casually suggesting (or shouting for) “I Am Just A Ghost” at a song break. I doubt I made the difference, but they played it as their second to last song and completely killed it. The verses were sung at a near whisper and as the song built towards its dramatic conclusion, a trance seemed to engulf the audience. The song was overwhelming in all the good ways; managing to be haunting, beautiful, tragic and delicate at the same time. Out of respect for the track (and not at all having to do with the few beers I had before the show), I hit the bathroom halfway through the closer – the fun “Armageddon Song.”

One last note: The band seemed dead-set on going to a college after-party, asking about it numerous times throughout the night. I felt bad for them, figuring they had no idea where they were. But I hope that some of the hip youngsters at the show were able to treat them to a good time.

Enjoy a video of “Out of Time” from some random show!

Visit The Dutchess and The Duke Here!

Buy Albums by The Dutchess and The Duke Here!

Visit Acrobatics Everyday Here!

Top photo by Andrew Waits.

Dirty Projectors @ Jensen Recreation Center – 10/31/09, Echo Park, CA

Posted in Live Reviews by finickyears on November 3, 2009

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I was a little nervous about spending my Halloween at a Dirty Projectors show. I had never seen them before, and from the listening I’ve done to their fantastic albums, Bitte Orca and Rise Above, I wasn’t quite sure it would be, well, fun. (Dirty Projectors don’t shy away from complicated melodies and difficult song structures – not the typical way to spend a wild Saturday night in costume hell.) But by the second song, the handclap-inducing “No Intention,” I realized Dirty Projectors were a perfect party band. Who would have thought?

The band didn’t go all out with their costumes, but Dave Longstreth sported a giant cowboy hat and Angel Deradoorian wore a knight’s get-up. What was most refreshing about the show, though, was the sheer quality of the sound. Dirty Projectors were not only tight with the material, they enhanced it live. Longstreth’s guitar work always sounded intricate on record, but seeing him perform reaffirmed the talent he possessed. As a boy, though, it was hard not to devote my attention to his supporting cast of ladies who killed the harmonies and shined in their lead opportunities. Of course, “Stillness Is the Move” was a standout. So often, a band’s single can seem overly rehearsed or overplayed, but Amber Coffman brought the song to life and went over the top with soul that is rarely embodied in a white woman. Other set standouts included “Cannibal Resource,” “Useful Chamber” and “Temecula Sunrise.”

And who would have thought the Jensen Rec Center could pull off such a cool show? For a venue I didn’t even know existed, I was truly impressed. The interior sported an open fireplace, couches and a big-enough standing space to accommodate the rather large crowd. I hope they have more shows here (or if they do have a lot of shows here, have shows I want to go to!).

If you didn’t have an opportunity to see the 7:00 and 9:30 p.m. shows Dirty Projectors put on this Halloween, they will be back in February at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the L.A. Philharmonic.  Yeah, that will be as cool as it sounds.

I also wanted to send out my heartfelt thoughts to Kyle Field from Little Wings. I wasn’t able to catch much of their opening set, but my friend Jon Paul tried to remove a splinter from under his fingernail after the show. I hope you are OK, Kyle!

Enjoy some photos!

Stereogum was there, too!

So was this guy (check out the set list here).

Visit Dirty Projectors at MySpace.

Buy Bitte Orca here.

Dead Man’s Bones @ The Echo – 10/31/09, Echo Park, CA

Posted in Live Reviews by finickyears on November 2, 2009

Dead Man's Bones Choir

The phrase “vanity project” is thrown around when an actor decides to delve into the music world. The assumption is that movie stars use their star power to stroke their ego every chance they get and that talent and passion are non-factors in the creative process. Strangely, Dead Man’s Bones’ debut self-titled album used the working title Don’t Let a Lack of Talent Get You Down. But vanity project couldn’t be further from the truth when talking about Ryan Gosling’s musical endeavor. What do you notice about the album cover below?

Dead Man's Bones Album

See Mr. Gosling? He is way on the right. Although he handled most of the vocal duties at the Dead Man’s Bones Halloween show Saturday night at The Echo, never did it feel like he was front and center of the music project. It felt like collaboration in the truest sense of the word. A collaboration between the band’s two principals, Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields. A collaboration between the gang of costumed ghouls that they pick up at every road stop (I hear they are traditionally a local children’s choir, but kids with nothing to do on Halloween are a hot commodity, so we were left with friends of the band, a couple of teenagers and the soundman’s two small children dressed as skeletons). A collaboration between the eager crowd, the venue (which was decorated wonderfully) and an always tumultuous night of the year that can see people get too drunk and too rowdy in a heartbeat. No, there was nothing vain about this show.  If anything, the night was risky and adventurous; a celebration of youth in the arts.

Even the last number of the evening emphasized this, as Gosling invited one of the choir members to perform a song she had recently written. She stepped up to the piano, nervously, and performed a lovely little piece. Not the kind of thing that would pump up a crowd about ready to leave. Not the kind of thing rock stars usually embrace, i.e. turning the spotlight away from themselves. But the crowd was respectful and erupted in applause as the young lady took center stage in what you imagine was the biggest moment of her life.

The band, however, did not shy away from Ryan Gosling’s presence. After the first song, a crowd member shouted, “We love you, Ryan!” in a voice that imitated a 13-year-old fan girl. The band laughed it off, with the touring female singer encouraging the crowd to keep it coming. As this was the last date of the tour, it’s hard to imagine this was anything new for them. However, every number felt raw and dangerous. Gosling had a recurring look of pain on his face, like he was waiting for everything to go wrong at any moment.

This was never more apparent than during the biggest moment of the night. The youngest of the choir, a girl around 6 or 7 who was dressed up as a skeleton, laid down in the middle of the stage, a sheet placed in front of her to project a video. Now this is not the actual video from the show, but it was similar in production and such:

After the movie ended, you could see the girl’s shadow rising up from behind the sheet. She then grabbed the microphone and sang Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.” Watching a 6-year-old sing this song solo was creepy, adorable – and most of all – terrifying. Terrifying because everyone wanted her to get through it unscathed. You could see every band member mouthing the words to her, giving her support and, likewise, the crowd backed her up with applause at every break. The result was an unforgettable number that still gives me chills when I think about it. Here is a video of a different girl singing it in Chicago (Our girl was better!):

The rest of the show did not disappoint either. The combination of “My Body’s a Zombie for You” and “Pa Pa Power” to close out the initial set worked to get the crowd moving. The band went the untraditional route by staying on stage for the encore break. Gosling announced that “they knew three more songs,” and when the crowd responded, he assumed we wanted to hear them. The final full-band number of the evening used the audience as the back-up choir for “Paper Ships” as every member of the stage show introduced himself (Gosling’s sister was in the choir, and I believe his brother was in the band). The opening acts included MCs as sheeted ghosts, a 1940s variety revival show and a guy playing a xylophone.

Hopefully, they will be back in town before next Halloween.

Visit Dead Man’s Bones on MySpace here!

Buy Dead Man’s Bones here!