Monday, March 28, 2011

Show Review: Appleseed Cast 27 March 2011 (with a short general commentary on "the scene")

Yes, the Appleseed Cast finally made their way back to Reno last night and before I get into the specifics of the evening, I have to just say a GIGANTIC thank you to the band for even humoring the idea of playing in Reno after the debacle four years ago that ended with them playing a despite-the-cards-stacked-against-them-still-great barely fourty minute set (and this, of course, was no fault of theirs in the first place; but all of this is another story entirely — we'll get to it partially below).

There was a delayed start —10pm, as opposed to the posted time of 8pm— and with three openers, I knew we were in for a long night (indeed, I asked Dave what time it was when we walked out of the place at the end of the night and he said two-twenty-something — sheesh).

First up was local band Fa Fa Fa. Kind of fun and jangly, in a two clean-toned guitars (a la Television) sort of way. Tight, jerky rhythms and fun pseudo-harmony vocals. Competent, sure. My thing overall? No, not really. But they were good just as a listening in the background sort of thing.

Next was Seas and Centuries who I knew of because of Dave's championing of lead singer Alex's previous projects (none of which I was really that into, honestly). After hearing a song or two at Dave's insistence, I was actually excited to see them opening for Appleseed Cast. And they did not disappoint. Very tight, very enjoyably concise set. The highlight of their brief set was definitely 'Until December' — which is like War-era U2 meets 'Ceremony' by New Order. The band was giving away business cards at the show which had the URL for a free download of their initial three song EP. Upon getting home and properly digesting the material (all three songs they played last night), I have to say that it's definitely worth everyone's time. They were professional and respectful of the circumstances and, despite Alex's humility, I thought they sounded completely ace. I don't think I've ever been more excited about a homegrown act.

The national touring act that was along for the ride with Appleseed Cast was Muscle Worship. And I didn't get it, just flat out. I appreciated their obvious passion during the performance, but maybe it was the sound mix and the lead guitar being obtrusively loud. Things just didn't gel and all of their songs starting sounding the same after a while. Still, I definitely appreciate bands coming through town like that and I made sure I told all the guys in the band as much afterwords.

Appleseed Cast came on sometime after midnight and it seemed like they were obviously a little miffed at the late start time. In fact, (drummer) John (Momberg) set up his kit so that he was playing with his back to the (unfortunately dwindling) audience. (bassist) Nate (Whitman) joined him for the majority of the set and (second guitarist) Aaron (Pillar), because of the size of the stage, had to set up his gear so that it was impossible for him to play his parts and face the audience.

It was not a good sign. It was going to be the repeat of the barely fourty-minute set from four years ago, I feared.

But they launched into 'Ceremony' from Peregrine with a cool ease and I noticed right away that they were a lot more animated than the circumstances would have expected them to be — arguably, they were even fidgety.

I was excited to hear Sagarmatha material, plain and simple, because I missed that tour. They did not disappoint, as they played three songs from that album ('As the Little Things Go', 'South Col' and 'Raise the Sails'). 'As the Little Things Go' was especially great as the proper set ender and it was just amazing to hear the band translate that six minute buildup so well in a live context. Where it sounded laboured-over and nearly aloof (in a good way) on the record, it came across as a piece of urgent, pure wall of sound in concert. It was the one I hoped they would play from Sagarmatha and it did not disappoint.

Other selections included (not in order):
'Here We Are' from Peregrine (unsurprisingly rendered in a very noisy fashion)
'Hanging Marionette' from Two Conversations (actually, this was one of the highlights of the set)
'Fishing the Sky' from Mare Vitalis (a genuine shock to hear them play it and even more of a shocker how well it fit in with the newer material — I would love to hear them play more material off this album, especially if they're going to do it such justice)
'On Reflection' and 'Rooms and Gardens' from Low Level Owl (have heard them play 'On Reflection' every time I've seen them and it still remains my favorite song of theirs; they could play it at every single gig they ever do and it will never get old. 'Rooms and Gardens' was the only encore song and the show closer and it was all awesome, noisy chaos — just like how they played it on the LLO anniversary tour last year)

But, most importantly, I knew they were almost certainly going to air out some new material at this show. And they played the title track from their upcoming EP 'Middle States' and one other new one whose title I can't recall right now (help me out Dave, you setlist thief). 'Middle States' (the song) was everything I hoped for. I will spare you the obtuse pseudo-recollections of hearing a brand new song, once, as it was being played live, but I just remember thinking while they were playing it that it sounded like the perfect synthesis of the shoegazey-ness of Sagarmatha mixed with the riffy-ness of Peregrine. And noisy. God, I had goosebumps. I can't wait to hear it again.

The other song struck me as a bit more of a tough turkey. I don't remember much about it, except that its riffs were less showering and more angular (going back on old tricks minus the screaming, perhaps?). It was very mazelike, and puzzle-ish from what I recall. I liked it, it just wasn't as immediately grabbing as 'Middle States.'

And then, there they were, packing up their gear, just another stop on the road for them. There was nothing even close to a packed (or even semi-full) house. They did abridge the set, as Dave and I later found out ([lead singer and guitarist] Chris [Crisci] was kind enough to donate his only setlist to us dorks) — they omitted about four songs (one of which was another new one we consequently missed out on), probably because of time issues and (as we also found out) Aaron was up there the whole time under the weather, playing with very flu-like symptoms.

And yet, Chris bowed when I thanked him for coming back to Reno. Aaron was downright chatty (amongst a flurry of deep coughing) and he even remembered Dave and I from last year's show in San Francisco. I thanked Nate and John as well and they seemed grateful that there was at least a few people in the small crowd that were there to watch and listen and appreciate.

Which brings us to the next issue —and I must apologize in advance for being kind of a sourpuss— but Reno kind of sucks.

How is it even possible for a band like Appleseed Cast to come through town and have barely fifty kids even notice that one of the best bands in the world is playing for them, just feet away from where they're smoking their cigarettes, drinking their PBR and trying to talk to each other over the band?

Was I actually approached by someone representing the vile Holland Project? (google it for yourself; fuck links — this is the same "organization" that screwed Appleseed Cast into an abridged set four years ago)

Did this person actually hand out flyers, advertising for another show and tell me it was going to be 'the best show of the year' in which a band that sounds like 'Bright Eyes if he screamed meets Bruce Springsteen' would be playing said best show? (sidebar: you just ignored Reno's best show of the year when you disrespected Appleseed Cast last night, kiddo)

Why were there more girls taking pictures of each other on their phones down front than there were, you know, people who actually cared?

What exactly is going on?

Well, my friend, Reno kind of sucks sometimes.

I apologized to Aaron for the lack of respect in the audience —and the general lack of audience at all— and all he could do was thank me in return for my previous kind words.

At that point, I realized, as much as I love having one of the best bands in the world playing at my doorstep, we don't really deserve it. The guys in the band are too humble for their own good. They deserve stadiums full of attentive, respectful listeners.

Instead, they get their set start times pushed back to unrealistic hours and dwindling audiences who are more interested in the PBR drink specials and holding their cigarettes in a fashionable pose.

Judging from the band's only Tweet mentioning anything to do with the stop in Reno (and, alternately: their numerous Tweets from SF, capped by this one), they were grateful for the lucky odds at the slots and tables, not for the mostly unappreciated (yet still incredibly good) set they had just played.

Here's to hoping they come back.

Not that I blame them if they won't.


PS — Totally scored Peregrine on vinyl at the merch stand. Right on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


New podcast.

Songs that have helped me (and still are helping me) cope with my divorce.

01 Everything But the Girl — I Don't Want to Talk About It (1988)
02 Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues (2011)
03 Mark Burgess — Happy New Life (1994)
04 Beulah — Landslide Baby (2003)
05 Doves — There Goes the Fear (2002)
06 Stephen Fretwell — Dead (2007)
07 Sigur Rós — Gobbledigook (2008)
08 The Comsat Angels — (Do the) Empty House (1982)
09 Portishead — The Rip (2008)
10 Radiohead — Lotus Flower (2011)
11 Travis — Selfish Jean (2007)
12 Kitchens of Distinction — The 1001st Fault (1989)
13 The Sound — You've Got A Way (1987)
14 Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark — Of All the Things We've Made (John Peel Session, 1983)
15 Dumptruck — Island (1987)
16 Archer Prewitt — The Race (2002)
17 The Cure — Treasure (1996)
18 Crowded House — Private Universe (demo, 1992)
19 Neil Young — See the Sky About to Rain (live, 1971)
20 Trembling Blue Stars — Farewell to Forever (1998)

Download link.


PS — Still not the proper return of RC. You will know when it happens. I promise it will be soon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Radiohead — The King of Limbs

As if the rest of the world doesn't even exist, Radiohead have released another surprise album, announced just a few days before the world was able to hear it for the first time. The fact that the band has reached a point where they are able to operate in this manner is awesome enough in and of itself, but the secondary fact that they continue to successfully and simultaneously straddle the fence of accessibility and envelope pushing in the actual music they make is the reason why they are who they are.

I went into the Ok Computer and Kid A hype kicking and screaming, but the fact remains that those records won me over on pure quality and by the time Amnesiac was released, I was clearly a fan. I've never been one to blindly co-sign anything the band has done just because they created it, but I guess I consider myself part of their worldwide cult that exists because they —generally speaking— make fantastic records.

The quality of In Rainbows was unfortunately overshadowed by its revolutionary 'pay what you want' download distribution. But when the proper ten song, fourty-two minute album is revisited now, you can hear the band's most perfect synthesis on record of their arty pretensions crashing head-on with pure melodic accessibility. It was easily their most streamlined effort since the Bends and yet it had all of the space rock and post-post-punk sounds that made the band so interesting in the first place. Songs like 'Bodysnatchers' and 'Weird Fishes/Arpeggi' were like mini-masterpieces that felt like, somewhere in the band's vaults, there were twenty or thirty minute versions floating around. And yet, here were these four or five minute paraphrased versions that not only accomplished the end goal brilliantly, they showcased a band that seemed to be at the apex of their songcraft. And that's a good analogy for the rest of that album as well.

The King of Limbs, however, feels like a vanity project in comparison. Like they already proved that their new creation and distribution work ethic was already a fruitful endeavour and this new album is just a victory lap of arty pretensions being taken to their logical and respective extremes.

If one song were a perfect pre-cursor to the sound they tackle on the King of Limbs, it would be 'Reckoner' from In Rainbows. Strange, polyrhytmic textures blending head-on with Krautrock repetition and a nearly bursting sense of melody.

It feels like the band is just having fun this time around.

Of course, 'fun' in the Radiohead sense does not equal happy.

This is tense, highly rhythmic, labyrinthine, paranoid music.

Very druggy.

Not very many corridors of lightness to be found here.

Maybe it's because of where I'm at in my life right now, but it makes me feel like nothing will ever get better. Like I'm stuck. Almost like mental prison.

Jesus christ, just the tone of this music is unspeakably bleak.

For all of its complex rhythms, densely buried melodies and paranoia, it's actually very calm. Like restrained doom.

And maybe that's why I like it so much. The music on this album often feels like Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption angrily grunting, 'Get busy living or get busy dying.'

And while they are definitely wallowing away in some sort of bleakness, they're also having a laugh. Just listen to that middle eight on 'Lotus Flower' where Thom states, 'There's an empty space inside my heart where the wings take root, so now I'll set you free' in his soprano monotone only to come back a second time to turn into Marvin Gaye and repeat the same thing. The video for the song only seems to further enhance the feeling that the band is just fucking with all of us.

That is, if the song weren't totally brilliant.

(which it clearly is)

As far as specifics:

This is Thom's best vocal performance ever. Who would have guessed that the guy would've developed into such a wonderful soprano crooner? Truly, on songs like 'Lotus Flower' and 'Codex,' his voice sounds downright gorgeous.

Rhythms and polyrhythms EVERYWHERE. The whole initial shock of this thing mostly rests on just how complex the time signatures are.

Thirty eight minutes and mission accomplished. Fuckin' a.

I'm a little surprised that 'These Are My Twisted Words' didn't show up. Granted, the song is over a year old by this point, but it would've sounded awesome coming right after 'Feral.'

After spending a half an hour wallowing away in pure gloom, 'Separator' is quite possibly the prettiest thing they've ever done. Makes me think of the Durutti Column. Fantastic.

Overall, I am quite certainly in total awe. A week's worth of constant listens and I like it better than half of their catalogue. In fact, right now, I'd say the only things topping it are Kid A and Amnesiac.

It will probably go down as one of the band's most divisive moves, but I am a self-professed fan of 'mess' albums, so it makes perfect sense that I would love such a beautiful monstrosity.


PS— This is not the proper return of Redundant Chicanery. But that may happen a lot sooner than I anticipated. I make no promises.