alright, people – i know it’s been a long while since i stopped posting here regularly. but if you happen to drop by, or still follow this for whatever reason, etc., please check out the following links. i think you’ll like what you hear.
whew, it’s been a while since i contributed anything to tongs-land, but if there was ever a reason for me to return to form here, it was the show i saw at the ‘dise last night.
i only found out this thing was happening about two weeks ago, when i was checking to see if there were any details about phantogram’s july show yet posted to the club’s website. i have to admit i didn’t really listen to the dodos at all before i saw the posting for this – it caught my attention purely for the involvement of gauntlet hair. i discovered them last year – i wrote about them in this blog (OH MY GOD, IT’S BEEN OVER A YEAR AGO NOW, LOOK: http://tongsmusic.com/2010/05/26/some-new-songs-that-dont-blow/) because i was so impressed by their song “our scenery,” which, once upon a time, was featured on gorilla vs. bear. this is what i had to say about that track at the time:
“There’s this interesting new crop of lo-fi musicians that seem to be combining the shoegazey, surreal sounds of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Slowdive with contemporary indie (and by ‘contemporary indie,’ I mean everything from the quirky pop/rock of The Shins to the dance-or-die electro of Passion Pit). Gauntlet Hair is one of them, and bizarrely enough, they sound a little bit like Dom, a group from Worcester that I assume they can’t possibly know much of anything about (GH is from Colorado). At any rate, I’ve loved what I’ve heard from GH so far, and ‘Our Scenery’ is no exception – it builds up innocuous, drifting verses into wall-of-sound choruses, all interwoven with echo-laden vocals doused with as much reverb as the guitars. Between the jumpy guitars, crescendoing drums, and chilly vocal harmonies, listening to the song is a bit like opening a time capsule of late ’80s-early ’90s indie rock. Go their Myspace page and turn it up loooooooud.”
anyway, i was thrilled at the opportunity of seeing these guys on what i found out was/is their first states-wide tour, so i got tickets right away. i checked out the dodos after the fact and loved what i heard, so that was a plus (though everyone seems wrapped up in sucking the dick of their 2008 breakout album visiter, their entire catalog is pretty damn solid and satisfying). and soon enough, last night was upon us.
there weren’t many people watching gauntlet hair, but many of those in attendance seemed familiar with the band, and both those who were and those who weren’t all definitely enjoyed themselves. it was hard not to: their music is a reverb-drenched, echoey wall of monstrous sound, and it’s a beautiful thing to get lost in. i’ve always felt like i’m in a cave, lit by a d&d-style torch or two when i’m listening to their stuff; it’s just cavernous music. that’s the word i’d use to describe it if asked: cavernous. it also has this bizarre…i don’t know, “candlelight” quality to it. to my synesthete’s ears, it sounds burnt orange, and shadowy – it’s a little like when you’d shine flashlights at your chin when you were telling ghost stories as a kid.
these guys are incredible performers, too. drummer craig nice is front and center, and between his kit-battering energy and his tongue-in-cheeky stage banter it’s hard to not think of him as the frontman (which is not to belittle singer/guitarist andy r. in the slightest – they just have very different stage presences). andy clearly loses himself in the channeling of his soaring, reverberating vocals; every strum of his guitar was another floodgate burst, another wave shaking through us audience members at bone-level. these two core gauntlet boys were joined by a bassist and a rhythm guitarist who rounded out the live sound succinctly. for a band who claims to have played less than 30 live gigs in the entire duration of their career, they were tight as fuck, especially on the aforementioned “our scenery” (which better get these dudes the attention they deserve, i’m sayin’) and the head-sticking “i was thinking.”
oh, and when my best friend and i walked past mr. nice as he was chatting with some people outside, we caught his eye and he joined us for a stroll through the back alleys of commonwealth avenue. we chatted for a while and i let him know that i’d blogged about his band before, and was actually there to see them quite a bit more than to see the dodos. i think he was either impressed or just generally taken by us weirdos, so he gave us a copy of gauntlet hair’s 7″ record and later led us to the front of the crowd (now quite a bit fuller) to watch the dodos. we spent the duration of the headliner’s set bopping around with him and his bandmates and largely feeling like the coolest people in the observable universe.
i suppose the dodos deserve some of my attention here, too – and oh, i shouldn’t say it like that, because they put on a killer show. i do have to admit the bulk of my familiarity with them is visiter-based, so i didn’t immediately recognize a lot of their set. still, every song was perfect or damn near it, percolating with the tension i feel this band has a real mastery of, replete with enough push-pull loud-soft-loudness to keep us on our toes (and dancing, at that) for close to an hour and a half. what impressed me the most was their comfort in the louder end of the sonic spectrum, something one might not expect from the content of their records. there was a heaviness there, though, and undeniably so.
i’m always eager to point out happy bands when i see them, and the dodos looked every bit as content as they were making their audience feel. from the way they were acting and grinning like kids on christmas, i’d guess it was their first major headlining tour or close to it. they had a superb onstage rapport with one another – you know, those knowing looks musicians shoot across the stage, that “we are of one mind” vibe – and with the crowd as well. i feel like all of this culminated in the form of their most famous tune, “fools” (yeah, that’s the miller chill one). maybe it’s trite to single this song out, but it’s one of their best and certainly among my favorites of theirs. it seemed a bit sped up, like most of their set, but not rushed in the slightest. the energy was palpable in that room, and though many of us knew where to expect the rises and falls, the tension remained. those “purple bottle”-esque drums thrummed like a heartbeat; meric long’s stellar voice rollicked through those mouthy lyrics without a misstep; the audience was mixing in foot stomps and “oh-oh, whoa-ohs” as applicable.
so, bottom line: one of the best shows i’ve been to all year? fuck yes. definitely one of the most intimate, participation-friendly concerts i’ve gone to in all my years of music fandom, too. i’d jump at the chance to see both of these bands again and i’m already stoked for gauntlet hair’s forecasted by-the-end-of-the-year return. i was a little late to the party with discovering the dodos, but i’ve been ranting about those gauntlet men for 13 months and you, dear reader, ought to check ‘em out and hear why. google that shit!
(aviatrix – in fact, you might find me very interesting)
moving right along: on saturday night, i went to see blackfield and anathema at the royale here in boston. i had tickets to this for three months beforehand – it was crazy enough that blackfield was playing shows in the US, but this was the first time anathema has ever toured in this country. pretty insane when you consider they’ve been making music for two decades or so. anyway, i have a storied history with both of these bands, and it was magnificent to be able to see them both back to back. in total, it was one of the most arresting and moving concerts i’ve ever been to, and definitely the best show i’ve seen all year.
blackfield is one of the many side projects of steven wilson, the man behind the incomparable porcupine tree. he works with popular israeli rock singer aviv geffen to create some of the most baldly earnest – and saddest – music you’re ever likely to hear. geffen’s blunt lyrics and his at-times hard to digest vocal delivery toes a fine line between melodrama and comedy, but wilson helps him hone the most moving parts of his songs and the result is as emotionally intense as it is musically beautiful.
i’ve been a porcupine tree fan for ten years now, and when blackfield surfaced with their eponymous first album in 2005, i have to say i initially wasn’t wild about what i heard. in those days, though, i was quite the metalhead, and what blackfield sounded like to my ears then was like a watered-down version of porcupine tree minus all of the brilliant, cathartic heaviness. i shelved them for the time being, but by the time their second album came out in 2007, my tastes had changed significantly. due in part to the enthusiasm of my then-boyfriend for its song “some day,” blackfield ii became the soundtrack to my sophomore year of college. when i revisited the first album, i found myself smitten, too, specifically with the gorgeous arrangements and intricate production on songs like “summer” and “hello” (the latter of which i would rank among my favorites of all time, if i had the time or the wherewithal to type out such a list).
my second year of college (2007/2008) was a very difficult time for me. i was deeply depressed and stalwartly avoiding medication or therapy due to a mixture of my own capacity for being excessively headstrong and monetary concerns. my relationship with john was the only one i had bothered cultivating or contributing to in some time, so i found myself friendless and estranged from my family. i spent the latter half of my spring semester desperately seeking employment and failing to find anything aside from a part-time position doing grunt work in the college’s registrar’s office (see my recent post about opeth’s watershed album for more details on that, and the wonderful summer that followed). so, i turned to my usual solace, my lifelong hidey-hole – music – and blackfield’s (at that time) two records proved to be the centerpieces of my listening.
steven wilson’s work has always been some kind of weird aural comfort food for me. i guess i feel like i identify with both his way of describing the world lyrically and how he expresses his feelings musically. he’s too smart, too much of an outsider, and his chosen isolation in music is a result of that. his songs are melancholy and wistful, cheeky and self-aware, introspective and observant. he’s no technical genius, but he doesn’t need to be, and at any rate the simplicity of his music gives it much of its power. i’ve always had parasocial/imaginary relationships with the musicians i idolize, and my darker times i’ve often turned to wilson’s multitudinous projects as a means of seeking out a strange form of commiseration, with him i guess. that was the role those blackfield records were playing for me three years ago. since college, i’ve largely moved away from listening to them and porcupine tree’s stuff as well, due at least a little bit in part to my better performance at social integration and control over my anxieties. but seeing them at royale the other night reintroduced me to all of this stuff, to their songs both new and old, to my history with their catalog. and while i stood there dumbfounded trying to blink away tears the whole time, i’m glad it happened like it did. it was cathartic and immersing, and let me tell you: these guys can put on a real fucking rock concert.
i don’t want to gloss over anathema here; i’ve listened to them since the inception of my porcupine tree fandom because very few people listen to PT without hearing something about anathema (and opeth too, for that matter). they were once a doom metal band, back in the early ’90s, but towards the end of that decade they made a decided shift towards ambient-tinged melodic prog and they’re all the better for it. their albums alternative 4 and a fine day to exit are among the best relatively-straightforward-rock records i can even think of, and their latest album we’re here because we’re here was by far and away the best offering of its genre that came out last year – at least to this set of ears (note: if you listen to that record and don’t come away feeling like your heart’s been shattered into pieces and like you need to be held close to someone’s chest for the next hour or two, you might be a sociopath).
anyway, they played first, in condensed pseudo-acoustic form, with just mainmen and brothers danny and vincent cavanagh, a couple of guitars, and a sampler. in the hands of a less talented pair, this could have been terribly dull, but not with anathema. vincent’s voice is one of the most beautiful and terrifyingly powerful i can think of in all genres, and let’s be honest, he probably could have carried the whole weight of their performance a capella and it would have been just as good. but i shouldn’t belittle their playing, or danny’s masterful use of the sampler – and the guitar as a percussion instrument.
they started the set with “thin air,” the balls-grabbing, heart-wrenching opener of we’re here because we’re here, and even that song’s on-album, almost-overproduced resplendence was done justice, all soaring vocals and loping guitars and periods of instrumental tension. they only were on for seven songs, playing an assortment from their last five albums minus, sadly enough, a fine day to exit, but it’s hard to complain when they gave us two of alternative 4‘s finest (“lost control” and “fragile dreams”), a pair of judgment’s kicks-in-the-emotional-nads (“deep” and “one last goodbye”), one of a natural disaster‘s many highlights (“flying”), and another slice of the brilliance that is we’re here because we’re here (“angels walk among us” – don’t let the corny title fool you). the cavanaghs knew their crowd: many of us had been clamoring to see them for years, and they were clearly just as excited as we were to be in boston. danny took a picture of the audience at one point for bragging rights to the rest of the band, who vincent mentioned might be joining them for a second round come fall. here’s hoping.
so, their set was woefully short, but every minute of it was as intense and charged as their music is on record. we didn’t have to wait long for blackfield, mostly because the cavanaghs had been playing in front of the headliners’ already-set-up equipment. they picked the perfect opener, too: one of the best tracks from their latest album welcome to my dna, the middle eastern-tinged bombast that is “blood.” the sound system in the royale is incredible, but i was worried that even it wouldn’t be able to handle the multi-layered nuance of a steven wilson project. boy, was i off-base. save for mr. wilson’s voice being a little too buried in the mix for the first two songs or so, the band sounded fucking incredible.
they tore through seventeen songs before taking any sort of a break, paying equal attention to their three records and hitting most of the highlights from each. i’m not wild about welcome to my dna; i think it pales in comparison with both of the previous records and i was pretty disappointed even after spinning it a few times. still, even the weakest songs on that album sounded great on saturday night, like the meandering title track and the jarring-in-a-bad-way “go to hell.” “go to hell” suffers from its ridiculous high school poetry lyrics, or so i thought. but when geffen sings “fuck you all, fuck you/i don’t care/go to hell” over and over again, isn’t there something to be said about that kind of unadorned earnestness? after all, there are plenty of other bands (porcupine tree included) that sing songs about feeling the same way; they just take the extra step of wrapping it all up in figurative language. anyway, the performance of it was effective enough to make me think more closely about the song.
for me, the high points (of course) were my favorites from the first two albums: the seriously pitiful “pain” with its hopeless lyrics and striking chorus; the string-laden glistening dollop of melancholia known as “miss u;” the three-minute exercise in compositional perfection that is the piano-driven “hello.” welcome to my dna‘s standout track, “zigota,” was one of the best pieces of the performance too, starting off as it did with lulling musings that slowly build up into gripping mellotron-washed verses and chilling choruses. i still find myself muttering “one direction with no turning back/soon it will burn to black” under my breath a few dozen times a day.
the way these guys play together and bounce off one another on stage is so great to behold. for all of the heaviness and drama of their music, their camaraderie is clear as day. by the time they closed with a version of “cloudy now” with extra swells-and-falls-and-swells-agains, they had played twenty-one tracks and honestly looked ready to play another ten. their energy is difficult to describe, but omnipresent and so easy to get caught up in. i left the royale feeling like something had either been torn out of me or something had been added. it’s hard to explain. things just seemed different, and they still sort of do.
i’m struggling to find a succinct way of concluding this, so i’m just going to go for the gold. both of these bands are worthy of your attention if they don’t already have it. so go listen.
“don’t you know there’s only one way out, and it comes when it comes.”