Passion Pit Drives Schubas Crazy

January 28, 2009

Just reviewed Passion Pit for UR Chicago here.

Will re-post the article below, and extend it with some more rambling commentary…

 

In a giddy fit of keyboards, falsettos, and saccharine dance beats, Boston newcomers Passion Pit are charming their way west during their first national tour.  P.P. bounced their way through a congenial but criminally short set last night at Schubas, as Michael Angelakos engaged the audience with the same disarming manner and sky-high vocals that seep through every track of his debut EP, Chunk of Change.

PassionPitSchubas1.28-7 

The set started out playful and keyboard-heavy with Angelakos’ ear for pop melody pushing to the forefront.  Flanked a guitar, drums, two Rolands, a Moog, and sitting behind a Yamaha synth himself, Angelakos’ dare-you-to-sing-higher-than-me octaves pierced through riffs, piano lines, and programmed back-beats. Espousing sentiments that in lower vocal ranges might be cringe inducing diary entries, the proper set ended with the dance-happy electropop of “Sleepyhead” and “Better Things” to which the sellout crowd lost their collective brains to, bloggers and ALTBros alike.

Angelakos apologized repeatedly for the abridged set, but, the audience couldn’t blame them for succinctness – Passion Pit just haven’t been around long enough to have a full set.

In a backstory that’s impossible not to repeat; Passion Pit’s origins couldn’t be more endearing: Originally a late Valentine’s Day present for Angelakos’ g/f, the “Chunk of Change” CDR made the rounds at Emerson University, made waves in Boston, and made headlines after some stellar sets at this year’s CMJ music fest in New York. A few months later, after some east coast practice gigs, they’re on tour backed by new label Frenchkiss, playing the six songs that everyone knows and road-testing a few new ones.

Passion Pit’s sincerity and DIY style fits with just a few other bands who somehow dodge be criticized for being goddamned “sincere” all the time — people have seemed to get really sick of that recently. (The fact that, as 20-something culture consumers, we already have issues with earnestness is fodder for a different blog).

I see Angelakos along side other singer/songwriters like Khaela Maricich (The Blow), Ben Gibbard (a-la The Postal Service), and Robert Wratten (Field Mice) as artists that manage to be shmultsy but nevertheless loveable.

Let it be a lesson to those aspiring coffeehouse guitar wankers… if you’re inspired to put your love / breakup letters to music and share it with the world, do two things:

  1. Sing higher and/or softer than you’re comfortable
  2. Put some good fucking beats behind it

You’ll be a blogosphere hero in no time.


Church Rock 2: The Baltimore Boogaloo

August 12, 2008

Flickr Photo from Romorosso: http://flickr.com/photos/romorosso/

Nuthin’ cooler than rock & roll in a church.

This, apparently, is not a new thing for spazzed-out Dan Deacon and his electro-whatevershock companions. Dan Deacon, is hosting both nights of his “Baltimore Round Robin” tour at Epiphany (aka Epiphany Episcopal @ 201 S Ashland, Chicago). This is one of many DD shows that he’s done at a chapel. A quick google-y seach churns out:

  • A halloween show at Judson Chuch (New York) with Chromeo and Kudu — (same place Arcade Fire got their neon on).
  • A show at St John’s Church (Baltimore) and First Unitarian (Philadelphia) with Girl Talk and White Williams
  • And also at First Uni with his “Ultimate Reality” video tour.

Check out the KILLER line-up Dan-o’s bringing to town — mmmmm, sacrilidge, tasty:

Night One, “Eyes Night” (10/10): Dan Deacon (duh), Beach House, Jana Hunter, Santa Dads, Lexie Mountain Boys, Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez, Teeth Mountain, Nautical Almanac, Lizz King, Creepers, WZT Hearts, Ed Schrader, Sandcats.

Night Two, “Feet Night” (10/11): Dan Deacon (doi), The Death Set, Adventure, Videohippos, Future Islands, Nuclear Power Pants, Dj Dog Dick, Blood Baby, Height, Cex, Smartgrowth, Double Dagger.

Church… so hot right now.

In the meantime, check out Dan being Deacon:

…and then Dan Deacon:


Don’t Look Back in Anger: Pitchfork Music Fest Styles of the Past

July 25, 2008

So, here’s the deal.  I kept referring to my past Pitchfork commentary, but then I realized my MySpace blog is torturously slow (and some of the pics are missing).  So, I’ve rescued it from that page, updated some of the pics, reformatted, and voila… a year-old piece that still makes fun of festival-goers effectively.  (A topic that, apparently, is timeless.)  Away we go!

Originally posted 8/9/07

 

In and Out

Well………. both Pitchfork and Lolla have occured and aside from all the music I wanted to see, a bonus for going is the people-watching.  Trends come and go, but never are they more embraced (badly or not) than at music festivals.

I’m not dismissing and ESPECIALLY not condoning any of these, but here’s a little heads up about what the art undergrads and coffeeshop workers near you will be sporting and/or name-dropping over the next few months:

 

1.

Out: Aviators

In: White/plastic-framed sun-glasses,  and the glasses David Duchovney’s wore in Zoolander

2.

Out: The Baumer  

In: The Smooth Sailor

 

3. 

Out: Truckers Caps

In: Painters Caps

4.

Out: Iceland

In: Sweeden

5.

Out: Vespas   

 

 

In: low-cc pedal-start motorbikes

Puch Maxi .JPG

 

6.

Out: Dance-Punk

In: Prog

7.

Out: Soccer jerseys

 

In: old-school soccer / tennis / basketball shorts

 

 

 

8.

 Out: the urban cowboy

 

 

In: the urban lumberjack

 

 

 

 

9.

Out: useless terms like “electroclash”

 

In: useless terms like “futureshock”

 

 

 

10.

Out: headbands

 

In: kerchiefs


Notes on the Pitchfork Music Fest

July 22, 2008

Nick Zinner of !!!, doing what Nick Zinner does.

I’m currently working on my annual “trend spotting” type list of what I saw at this weekend’s festivities. (You can check out last year’s here.) If you are not aware, Pitchfork is a festival that brings local, national and international talent together, so they can all look at how each other are dressing. Oh yeah, there’s music there too.

It was a pretty good year, actually, but I was hoping for more in the “style” department, not sure why. It could be for anyone of these three reasons:

  1. As Pitchfork notoriety has grown in the last three years, perhaps the fest’s “edgy” feel has worn off a bit, and with that, it’s forward-dressing attendees have diluted.
  2. My disillusionment and unending distaste for anything new or old
  3. I am WAY ahead of all trends now.

Bradford James Cox of Deerhuner and Mark Sultan of King Kahn attempt to entertain impatient Cut Copy fans. “A” for effort.

The feast was actually really fun. !!! killed, which is no surprise. Les Savy Fav was awesome, also no surprises there. Biggest issue with the event was actually Cut Copy’s failure to make it from the airport in time for their closing set. Though that’s no fault of their own, it’s still supremely disappointing. In what allotted time was left, they made the most of it, banging out both crowd-bouncers “Light & Music”, and “Hearts on Fire” to an enthused (but obviously peeved) crowd. Those that stuck around to see the hyper-abbreviated set worked very hard for an encore which didn’t come — chanting “Five More Songs, Five More Songs” probably didn’t help.

Before I write about “trend spotting” thing, which I’ll post about tomorrow probably, I wanted to mention things I didn’t see but expected to…

  • Party-Rappers: I saw very few nu-rave/b-boy kids. There were a few zany fluorescent windbreakers in the crowd, but surprisingly few retina-burning limited-edition hightops, Kanye-esque Venitian blind sunglasses, and “crosscolor” wear.
  • American Apparel Smack Girls: Emaciated heroin-chic AmAp mannequins, looking like the Olsen twins on a budget, did not take over the fest. I’m not particularly against American Apparel at all, but sometimes their style and color-choices are very disturbing. Just because you bought your entire outfit at the same store does NOT mean that it will automatically go together. They should put that as a disclaimer on the bag.
  • The Unapologetic Prep: With XRT-approved artists Vampire Weekend and Spoon both playing, and with coverage from outlets like Chicago rag The Red Eye, I anticipated seeing a lot more Chad/Trixie presence. V.W. especially, whose style is particularly “high-prep” did not bring out the J. Crew slew. Surprisingly, the most evidence I saw of this was on Friday during Public Enemy!(?) Who woulda’ thunk it? While Chuck D was talking about war, racism, Darfur, etc., there was a dude next to us going on a tirade about Chicago’s 10.25% sales tax. When Chuck was talking about the drug trade and Big Pharm, this guy started screaming about how much money he lost with his Pfizer stock last week. I’m NOT making this up.
  • Mud People: I’m am SO impressed with the lack of Mud People over the weekend. The hippie count, though present at the fest, was still at very low levels. Very few idiots thought it a good idea to douse themselves completely in mud. Yes, L.S.V. did it, but they’re on a stage — you are not.

Check back soon for a quick overview of what was stylin’ this year, and what you will soon see in your local bar if your local bar has Yo La Tengo on the juke box.

Oh, and just to streamline the process, here’s all the missed connections posted from this weekend so far. You’re welcome:

Jul 21 – My new friend from the East Coast – w4m – 29 – (Pitchfork)

Jul 21 – Pitchfork — the draw of the music kept me from stopping to chat – m4w – 30 – (Pitchfork)

Jul 21 – Broken arm dude at pitchfork – w4m – 22 – (pitchfork)

Jul 21 – giant camera lense and gray cut off jeans boy – w4m –

Jul 21 – To all the beautiful women at pitchfork that I missed (and still miss) – m4w – 28 – (Union Park)

Jul 21 – I saw you yesterday, but we still haven’t seen Of Montreal – m4w – 22 – (pitchfork)

Jul 21 – you asked if i’d blow the next hit in your mouth – m4w – 25 – (pitchfork animal collective)

Jul 21 – Rae…Ghost…Empty Cups…Backpacks – m4w – (pitchfork)

Jul 21 – your friends called you caleb – 25 – (pitchfork)

Jul 21 – Pitchfork: owl belt buckle both days – m4w – 26 – (union park)

Jul 21 – To The Hula Hoop Chick From Pitchfork (Saturday Night) – m4w – (Pitchfork)

Jul 21 – Can I see you again? – m4w – 28 – (Pitchfork) pic

Jul 21 – Hey, another pitchfork post – m4w – 24 – (The pitch)

Jul 21 – pitchforked – m4w –

Jul 21 – Pitchfork’s No. 1 Boobs – m4w – 27 – (Pitchfork Music Fest)

Jul 21 – Pitchfork glance – m4w – 26 – (Pitchfork)

Jul 20 – pitchfork guy at cut copy – w4m – 21 – (pitchfork)

Jul 20 – pitchfork – w4m – 24 –

Jul 20 – Brad on the No. 9 to Pitchfork – w4m – 25 – (Ashland to Lake St.)

Jul 20 – tennessee and pitchfork boy – w4m –

Jul 20 – Cute girl at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday – m4w – 26 – (Chicago)

Jul 20 – Pitchfork — Throwing up near the entrance – w4m – 21 – (Union Park)

Jul 20 – saw you at the art museum AND pitchfork –

Jul 19 – Katie, this is Alex from Pitchfork – m4w – 22 – (Union Park)

Jul 19 – Pitchfork–your friend asked to unzip my shirt – w4m – 25 –

Jul 19 – you were working by the jewlry – w4w – (pitchfork)

Jul 19 – pitchfork – (indielove)

Jul 19 – Pitchfork Fest – 25 – (Union Park)

Jul 19 – pitchfork girl with guy’s face tattooed on left arm – m4w – 27 – (grant park)

Jul 18 – Pitchfork Cutie – Blue Cubs Hat and Glasses – m4m – 33 – (Pitchfork)


Wilco Watch 2008

February 19, 2008

(originally on URChicago here.)

Did you know that Wilco loves Chicago and Chicago loves Wilco? It’s true! If you’ve been holed up for the week not reading, nor internet-ing and just concentrating on staying warm, you may not be aware the Jeff Tweedy & Co. have pledged to perform every song they’ve ever written in a five-day stint at The Riv. Don’t you love ambition?!

This is very exciting for half the fans of Wilco who have followed the rock pioneers since their twangy debut and describe them as “alt-country” (whatever that means). It’s also exciting for the other half of their fans that prefer the more-recent tangential works like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky and describe them as “po-mo” (whatever that means).


(Nels Cline eking out a sweet “Impossible Germany” solo)

Though, if any modern band is up to this challenge, it’s Wilco. The band’s showmanship is as renowned as their songbook and so far the performances haven’t disappointed. The early shows, according to my pal Ruthie, focused heavily on the aforementioned “late period”. But, those ravenous (and computer-literate!) Wilco fans are tracking the set lists compulsively. Here’s a pie chart that would impress any indie rock chart-maker:


(Charts from WilcoBase.com)

During their stint Andrew Bird has stopped by twice to give a ‘lil whistle and a ‘lil fiddle and whoever else pops in for the last two shows is anyone’s guess. Though, I would guess it won’t be any artists Tweedy has dismissed from Wilco Island over the years: Ken Coomer, Max Johnston, Brian Henreman, Bob Egan, Jay Bennett, Leroy Bach. Jay Farrar’s prolly not stopping by either.


Rodrigo y Gabriela at The Hideout

January 28, 2007

Another random weekend night landed me in a hilariously long line outside one of my favorite spots: The Hideout. The bar is aptly named; hidden in an industrial area of town near North Ave and Elston and it’s not an easy find if you don’t know where you’re heading. Then again, judging by the queue, the place isn’t exactly “hush-hush”. Hideout has a stellar entertainment reputation (comedy, poetry, music, etc), a great low-key vibe and a line that stretched out the door and down the block.


(Images taken From http://www.RodGab.com)

My pal Kate had tipped me off to a free early show hosted by WXRT. It’d be fair to say that XRT is “slipping” a bit as far as being a relevant Chicago music resource goes (XRT listener pole, the loss of Sound Opinions), but they’re still an authority if they highlight fabulous musicians like Mexico-via-Dublin’s Rodrigo y Gabriela. Hell, before I even saw them I relished saying their names in a thick, fake, latin accent: “Rrrodureeego Eeee Gabreeeeyayla.”

While we’re trying to keep warm out on Wabansia, there’s terrific music floating out the windows of The H/O… more slackers (myself included) begin to line up outside, annoyed that we’re not being let in. While we’re standing, and shivering, and smoking, snippets of gorgeous guitar work emanated though the open window facing the front patio. Intrigued outsiders started taking turns peeking into front window in hopes of catching a glimpse.

Within 10 or so minutes the crowd thinned out and the kindly Hideout staff let us in, so long as we promised to stay at the front bar. All of us promised and about half of us complied. Being a good kid I took a seat at the front bar, ordered a round of Old Styles, and took it all in: The bar aglow with homemade paper snowflakes and Christmas lights, the mixed-bag crowd, and the gorgeous acoustic onslaught that was filtering in from the crowded room behind us.

Eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I joined the dozen or so that opted to just stand on chairs and tables in the bar in hopes of seeing the stage. The backroom was packed with the exact type of people I picture listening to XRT and some terrible world music CDs. (Also, side note: RodGab would politely punch you in the gullet for saying they were “world music”). Peering over the adult-contempo crowd, I spotted two mild-mannered guitarists laying out beautiful, seemingly effortless classical guitar picking with a flair that married Latin and Led Zepplin.

When Rodrigo Sanchez would occasionally drop into complicated fretwork, the capacity crowd remained absolutely silent. At other times the sound assault was so dynamic you’d think there were more than a pair of acoustic guitars on stage. Part of that sound is Gabriela Quintero’s percussive style–occasionally punishing her guitar strings to create jagged rhythms and using the hollow body of her guitar in substitution of a proper drum kit. The combined effect of the duo was overwhelming–a full sound that belied the two dexterous and mild-mannered performers on stage.

The show ended (after a superb rendition of Stairway… NOT joking), and Gabriela graciously thanked the crowd in charming, broken English. A few minutes later, (and after a much-appreciated appearance by those Nomadic Tamale Guys) the pair waived goodbye to the handful of onlookers and hopped into a waiting cab.


Office – Live at The Double Door

January 4, 2007

“If you don’t know by now… ask somebody else!” frontman Scott Masson exultantly sings to a home-team crowd. The line seems like a rallying chorus for his band, Office, and rightly so. For well over a year now the talented and peppy rock outfit was the worst-kept secret in Chicago. A group that, apparently, was only a mystery to A&R types.


Apologies for the lame cell-phone camera pics. Hey. They’re better than nothing.

Yeah, everyone at The Double Door on this mild Friday in December knew by now — including James Iha, Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist and Office’s new best friend. The bash thrown at the Wicker Park club Ohm after the set was heralded as a label-signing party, as Iha nabbed Office for his own Scratchie record label. (The signing itself is old news as Office’s website let word slip in October.)

Thank god the show was fabulous. Pre-show, the night was looking pretty dismal for me. Our plan to stake out the paradoxical “hi-concept dive” Empire Liquors failed when they were having a private party. Instead, our group set up camp at Debonair Social Club just down the street. The place was vacant — a hollow space which I immediately realized was the former (and equally uncrowded) Tre Via.

From what I read, I liked the concept behind Debonair, but the high ceilings and non-intimate setting made the place feel more like a cavernous gallery than an enjoyable social setting. That said, my impression might not be a solid one as we were there at 8ish –well before the W.P. crowd started filtering in.

But there was definitely one dude that stood out from the crowd. Prettymuch looking like Fat Joe (give or take some bling) he decided to stand up on one of the booth seats near us and take a biiiiiiiig stretch. Those of us with ADHD who’d been watching film projections of balloons and androgynous twenty-somethings were instead distracted by this guy’s ill-fitting hoodie creeping up his torso to reveal his weird, pale, PBR-belly. I tried not to think much of it and considered him merely an effective confrontational installation piece.

So, yeah, post-tubby’s striptease we hightailed it to the Double Door, missing Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, and walking in just as Mannequin Men took the stage and efficiently rocked the place. I concurred with my two pals that they were not too shabby, but the set was more spot-the-influence than we’d hoped — not that MC5, Jet-like AC/DC, 60s Mod, and New Wave are bad influences to work with. All-in-all, a good band to check out, but it was clear the crowd was there to see the other hometown group on the bill.

The collective venue had high expectations, and Office delivered, projecting the kind of confidence and enthusiasm that creates a magnetic live experience. With sharp guitars and punchy delivery, the fivesome keys off each other’s energy — all seemed so excited to be on stage they could probably make a desolate rehearsal space the most exciting place to be in the city.

Regaled in a Santa cap and a god-awful sweater, Scott Masson delivered snide commentary and sing-along choruses, while guitarist Tom Smith switched between jerky Cars-like chords and playful Guitar Hero posturing. Meanwhile bassist Alissa Noonan battled illness to pump out bouncy basslines and bop around shoeless. Team cheerleader and universal rock-crush Jessica Gonyea switched from keyboard to tambourine to cowbell and played most of the show jumping up and down to the beat played solidly and exuberantly by drummer Erica Corniel.

Office called Mannequin Men and SSLYBY back on stage for a joyously amateur rendition of John Lennon’s Happy Christmas before crowds emptied out onto North Ave. The night for me ended with some cheap drinks at Estelle’s (a fairly unremarkable bar which manages to get LINES outside it), and a half-serious razzing at Western & Armitage’s Green Eye for rocking a tie on a Friday night. Pshaw.


Hot Chip, Cool Bar

November 14, 2006

Remember the time when people said “synthesizer” instead of keyboards? Incidentally, it was also when fashionable gals were wearing like, tights under skirts, and um, leg-warmers. Well, my nostalgia-prone friend, for better or for worse, that time is back.

When Hot Chip (nay “Hawt Chip”) took the stage at The Metro earlier this month, four-fifths of them took their stations behind a wall-o-synths. Shaking the venue’s collective booty as much as 5 pasty Brits can shake an equally pasty crowd, they started the set with the throbbing dance-funk of “Boy From School” and carried the energy through the set. Mind you, Hot Chip is NOT a poke-around-behind-a-laptop band. The emphasized live element makes for a terrific show — for every electric drone and bass beat there’s dreamy pop harmonies, guitar hooks, and yes, even the beloved cowbell that’s all the rage these days. Can’t wait for the triangle to make it’s homecoming.

For the encore they banged out a riotous version of “Over and Over” and a few days later someone reminded me I screamed “SYNTH GODDDS!” at some point. Probably when the song segued perfectly into a cover of New Order’s “Temptation” — a well-deserved nod to the Kings of Pasty Dance-Pop.

While my friend was busy slurring tequila infused come-ons downstairs at Smartbar, the remainder of our group took two quick lefts out the door and ducked into arguably the most tolerable bar in Wrigleyville: The Gingerman Tavern. An oddly shaped spot that occupies the wedge between N. Clark and Racine. It’s no coincidence this bar is stumbling-distance from The Metro. The mix-matched chairs, tables and billiard balls complement it’s equally eclectic clientele. That said, if anyone knows of a better Wrigleyville bar, I’d like to hear it, drink there, and then tell you why you’re wrong.

photos by Pegs. Thanks Pegs.


The Day Downers Grove Was Awesome.

November 9, 2006

In what some would consider to be an unfortunate event in itself, I rolled out of bed at 6:30am on a Saturday to head to the western suburbs and catch a children’s book celebration. Ouch.

Why would someone do this? Well, the book was the 13th and final installment of A Series of Unfortunate Events by reclusive author Lemony Snickett, along with the musical accompaniment of The Gothic Archies.


ROCK AND ROLL!!!!

But enough with the pseudonyms. Snickett (who’s never been seen) is the penname of the mordantly funny and slightly effeminate Daniel Handler. The Gothic Archies is the most recent nom-de-plum of Stephin Merritt. The prolific singer/ songwriter/ producer/ collaborator that has made fantastic albums under the names Future Bible Heroes, The 6ths, and most recognizably the Magnetic Fields.

I had no knowledge of the Unfortunate Events series (except for the some semblance of a Jim Carrey film) until Anderson’s Bookshop hooked me up with a copy of the book. Despite being utterly clueless, the opportunity to see (and ideally meet) the seldom-touring Merritt was too much of an opportunity to pass up.

It was obvious, as we waited in a line that curved around the block, that Merritt was an obscure footnote in this J.K.Rowling-esque obsession. The cue was mostly made up, as I assumed, of youth — all clutching their new Snickett book. Well… youth, their parents, a smattering of hipsters and Carol Marin. Some of the kids were dressed as characters from the novel… mostly Violet: the eldest of the polite, book-loving orphan protagonist Baudelaire children.

At 9:30 the doors opened and people started heading into The Tivoli Theatre — a gorgeous restored movie house. Merritt and Handler simultaneously took the stage, but it was definitely Handler’s show. He strode to centerstage and gleefully introduced Mr. Lemony Snickett with a sweeping gesture and a swell of applause. As the clapping subsided and no one emerged from the curtains the elders in the crowd who were “in” on the joke let out a little snicker. The kids were less jovial about the ordeal and disappointed that the Tivoli marquee, “Welcome Lemony Snickett”, was an out-and-out lie.

Handler then suggested the crowd should do the “Peter Pan thing” and applaud SO loud that Snicket should magically appear. The kids put in an honest second-effort but would quickly learn that Handler takes delight in disappointing children for the sake of entertainment –- a hobby shared by the author’s delightfully evil antagonist, Count Olaf.

“HONESTLY! Why would he [Snickett] lie to children!!!?,” Handler mused loudly, grabbing one of his books from the hands of an aisle-seated youth. “…Aside from the fact that it’s easy. And fun.” The kids, at some point, were also in on the joke and took delight in Handler’s antics and boisterous delivery — even when the content of his quips were well over their heads.


Really bad photo of Merritt (right) and Snickett’s untouched drumkit (left).

Amidst this highly-animated meanness, Merritt plucked the ukelee to the tune of his new Gothic Archies songs (an album which dedicates a song to each of Snickett’s thirteen books.) Between Handler’s silliness, the author would pick up his accordion to join Merritt in their songs. Merritt, who played the straightman to all of Handler’s hi-jinks, played very little and sang even less.

The Gothic Archies album, The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events was TECHNICALLY co-written by Merritt and Snickett. But truth be told, Handler plays the accordion pretty well. In fact, Handler played keyboard and accordion on Merritt’s biggest success to date — The Magnetic Fields’ massive pop genre-hopper 69 Love Songs.

Live, the diminutive Merritt’s voice is striking, a most unnatural baritone that resonated throughout the cinema. His foreboding (and sometimes nearly comical) delivery fits perfectly in Snickett’s playfully gloomy world. Sometimes buried in studio wizzardy or lo-fi recordings, Merritt’s vocals in-person were powerful — most remarkably on their song “This Abyss”.

Merritt exited mid-show in a staged fit of embarrassment, as Handler complained aloud about the musician’s “incessant one-chord strumming”. The author then dragged two volunteers out of the crowd to use percussive instruments. Handler thrust a noise-maker at the older volunteer saying, “Here. Hold this. And when I give the signal, throttle it like a baby.”

At this point, with Merritt definitely not coming back, my entourage began to sneak back to the lobby in the hopes of talking to the reclusive artist. Not that I had anything logical to say to him. After blinking at eachother for a second, Merritt dead-panned “It’s too early.” It was. It wasn’t even noon in rainy Downers Grove. And when I realized how burned-out I was, I imagined Stephin, with the tour not half over, traveling and playing second fiddle (read: ukelee) every morning at 10, he must be flat-out exhausted. In the spirit of the celebration, Merritt told me to frown for a picture. He then signed my pal’s CD, writing “Beware of Brian. Brian is a spy.” He’s on to me.


Stephin It’s-Too-Early Merritt: “Frown. Frown. Frown. Frown.”

Elsewhere in the Tivoli, famed author & graphic novelist Neil Gaiman was shaking hands and signing autographs too. An unexpected but exciting addition to the days events. I personally didn’t know who Gaiman was, but the level of “freaked-outedness” that my friend displayed told me that the guy was kind of a big deal.

That said, the trip out to Da Burbs was well worth it. Though Merritt’s stage time was minimal, Handler was able to keep the attention of people with a near-zero attention span – that being me, my friends, and a crowd of 10 year olds.


Scaring Small Children


Live Music Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Architecture in Helsinki, Takka Takka

October 31, 2006

They could’ve named this show “The Bands With Unnecessary Names” Tour ’06. New York-cum-Philly “indie” success story Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Australia’s Architecture in Helsinki, with Brooklyn-based Takka Takka opening took Chicago by storm early this October before actual weather took Chicago by, well, storm.

Venue? One of my faves.
Ticket price? A bit exorbitant.
Playing a two-night stint? Er, probably not a brilliant business plan.

Tickets were a-plentiful at the box office as the show was going on. Small, apologetic girls were selling their tickets for under face value on Sheffield. “I just don’t want to go anymore,” she explained. Fair enough. Maybe she had a Yom Kippur hangover. Does that exist? Well, if not, it was a crappy Tuesday in general.

Takka Takka got things going off to a… start, I guess. Simple, sweet-sounding tunes, pleasing, catchy, but not incredibly anything. Their studio tracks sound tight, but the pop charm that they exude on-record didn’t come off so well live. Nevertheless, a band to keep your eye on when they come through town again next month, playing at one of my fav venues in the city.

The headliner of the show, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, returned fairly recently from their sold-out show at The Metro earlier this year, ennui intact and ever-growing. The stage lighting creeped me out, but I’m always pleasantly surprised that lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s nasally voice isn’t nearly as obnoxious live as it is on the album. Let’s get this out of the way: A.O.’s voice sounds like David Byrne. I’m sorry if this angers people. There’s nothing wrong with sounding like David Byrne. Ounsworth insists otherwise. That’s okay, I’ve heard my voice on tape and it sounds weird too — all hoarse and occasionally lispy.

Annnnycrap, the hits were played. Oh, were they ever played. The highlight being an extended loopy keyboard and guitar jangle intro that jumped excitedly into “Is This Love?” with drummer Sean Greenhalgh tight on the beat. CYHSY speckled their show with some new material that keeps their “sound” but stretches the band’s legs a bit. I made a mental note to call a song “Krautrock Satan”, but I’ve since learned the song is called “Satan Said Dance.” A pretty catchy tune with one exception: The band’s pre-planned crowd-participation in which we were expected to chant “SATAN! SATAN!” back at them during the chorus. Neh. Problem is, 1.) not everyone (me) had heard this song before and 2.) I’d rather not chant “Satan” in general… that’s just me.

Elsewhere in the set, between-song downtime seemed a bit excessive, and I also took issue with a torturously long applause for an encore, in which most had given up and started talking to other concert goers while patting their hands together. (I learned that the man with the hoodie-inside-sportcoat combo next to me “knows you girls from somewhere… maybe Bank of America?”). Regardless, ’twas a good set. You can’t deny CLYSY propensity for catchy hooks, their tireless work-ethic and self-promotional savvy. The young band sounded fresh and confident–a great sign for a group that’s been touring incessantly.

Sandwiched between the two NY rock bands were the delightful Architecture in Helsinki. The eclectic group dressed the part–six members (an abridged touring lineup) took the stage looking like a mishmash of high school sterotypes… spaz, jock, hippie, Cure fan, etc, etc. Shirking the deliberately childish sounds of their first release, Fingers Crossed, AiH’s entire set was blissful, endearing and downright danceable (fittingly, as an In Case We Die LP “remix” album is in the works).

Swapping vocal duties and instruments between nearly every song, the band bounced through newer material and brand-new material, smooshing genres and song structures as they went. The abrupt endings and mid-song tempo changes which make their albums a peculiar experience created an exhilarating live experience–keeping the audience guessing… and clapping… and jumping around a bit.

The extended segue into a funk-friendly “Do the Whirlwind” got people bouncing, while the delightfully quirky Kellie Sutherland (right) stole the show belting out her vocals on “Wishbone” – the hap-hap-happiest pop gem you may ever hear.
Clad in a well-loved Ryne Sandberg jersey (a move Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch has pulled in Chicago before), singer Cameron Bird delivered his so-called “love ballad from the Outback,” “Maybe You Can Owe Me” with the equal parts whimsy and sincerity.

But before it could get too cute Bird got back to groovin’–hitting the drum machine and rocking out with such abandon that the instrument was knocked hard to the floor. Overall, the new stuff sounds great, one sounding an awful lot like Rusted Root (ha, in a good way) and the whole set giving off a exuberant twee-meets-Stop Making Sense rumpus.

Free Mp3’s:

Takka Takka – “Coco On The Corner”

Architecture in Helsinki – “Do The Whirlwind (Metronomy Mix)”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood”

(Photos by Pegs. Thanks Pegs.)