Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Add it to the list: new Bright Eyes on the way

Hot damn! What a way to round out a month of release announcements from some of my favorite acts. So far, Iron and Wine, the Decemberists, the Drive-By Truckers, Toro y Moi, and Tapes and Tapes all have new albums set for release in early 2011.

You can toss another one on that heap, as the AV Club is reporting that Bright Eyes is set to release The People's Key in February 15. You might remember I hinted at this happening back in September, when I put up a poll gauging excitement in various upcoming releases. Bright Eyes finished a solid third in that poll, so the four of you who voted for them, here you go.

What's weird is I'm listening to Lifted in my car right now. Anyway, it's the first Bright Eyes album since 2007's Cassadaga which was my sixth favorite album that year. Since then, Conor Oberst has stayed busy, releasing two solo albums and taking part in the excellent Monsters of Folk project with Jim James, M. Ward and producer Mike Mogis. As the AV Club article mentions, it's supposedly going to be the last album under the Bright Eyes moniker. Kind of the end of an era, but Oberst has proven that he can write outside of the bounds of that name, which leads you to believe that those bounds aren't really all that binding in the first place.

By the way, this will wrap up updates for November. Best Of '10 month starts soon -- look for all the year-end lists to appear throughout December!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Buck Owens and His Unwitting Support for My Alma Mater

Big football game this weekend! The University of South Carolina Gamecocks look to continue their outstanding season, but they have to get through their in-state rivals (Clemson) first. For the first time in a few years, we're favorites, which is terrifying. Sure, Clemson has had a pretty wonky season, and although they're coming off a strong win, it was over a pretty terrible team. They're out of their conference title race, and at this point are just trying to increase their bowl standing.

The Gamecocks, on the other hand, have clinched the SEC East for the first time, and are sitting on an 8-3 record. We've got a freshman phenom running back, a world class wide receiver, and a highly accurate (if a tad accident-prone) quarterback. And it's because of all this that I'm so anxious about this Clemson game. We're going into Clemson as favorites--the game is very much ours to lose.

On paper, we should win. But you just never know with this game. A few lucky breaks for the Tigers, and it could go down as a pretty nasty upset. Consider last year, when Clemson was 8-3 and preparing to play for their conference title the following week. They came into Columbia, and our 6-5 underdogs spanked 'em. The symmetry of these scenarios is eerie.

Anyway, in keeping with the spirit of this rivalry week, I've decide to post a Youtube clip with nebulous significance. It's Buck Owens performing "I've Got a Tiger By the Tail" on Hee-Haw. Man, I love these old country performances. Lots of mugging, big grins, unfortunate haircuts and VERY fortunate sideburns. Would have been a perfect candidate for the Tube Amp if I hadn't retired that feature for its unfortunate habit of being a pain in the ass to write.

Look, I realize this song isn't about the Clemson Tigers, and it would make more sense to post it after we win (if we do)--but frankly, any excuse to post a Buck Owens performance is a good one.

And may the Gamecocks have the Tigers by the tail all Saturday night.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More musical lookalikes...

Welcome back to this, our eleventh edition of Musical Lookalikes. I always enjoy finding the time to do this feature, but this might be my favorite edition yet. Why? Because it's such a gatdamn ringer, that's why.

The other night, I realized that I had no plans. For the first time in what seems like ages, I had a night that was completely unoccupied by friends, family, significant other, work, music, or anything. I was adrift in a sea of non-obligation. It was a wonderful kind of freedom, one I'd not known in weeks, if not months.

I took full advantage of my uncluttered evening; and by that of course I mean I absolutely wasted it. I did nothing, and it was glorious. I produced nothing and consumed much. I played Playstation 3, I watched TV, I played more Playstation 3. I then ordered a pizza and fired up Netflix (on Playstation 3). The first thing I saw under the New Release section was Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland. "Hey," I thought to myself, "why the hell not."

So while most other 25-year-old males were out clinking beer mugs and reveling in other social delights, I ate a pizza in the dark, the glow of a Disney movie gently illuminating my sauce-clotted beard. The movie was satisfactory. No masterpiece, but an able chunk of blockbustery entertainment and visual candy. And the best part of all? The uncanny resemblance of CGI-based characters Tweedledee and Tweedledum to the Pixie's stocky frontman, Frank Black:

JUST LOOK AT THAT SHIT. The twins are essentially a caricature of Black Francis. They share a bemused countenance, pinchable cheeks, chrome dome, hulking shoulders--it's the works, man. I hereby declare this the most egregious example of Musical Lookalikery in the history of this blog. *slams gavel

Monday, November 22, 2010

2011 release slate continues to heat up

Posts this time of year generally revolve around release announcements. As I've said before, I don't want to clutter this blog with news since, let's face it, that's not why anyone comes here. But there are generally some buzzworthy announcements made at the year's end, some from artists that I blog about.

Speaking of this year nearing extinction: I've been putting a bit of thought into how I'll be able to summarize "2010 in music". I'm at a loss for a specific adjective--my interests have been all over the place, it seems--but one description that's crossed my mind is "The Year I Realized I Was Too Old To Like Every New Trend In Music." I specifically think of chillwave--quasi-electronica borne out of the bedrooms of iMac producers--that was a force this year. In fact, "chill" would seems to be a descriptor of all the hip sounds these days, whether they're actually chillwave or just spacey indie folk or hipster post-punk, and so on. The "chill" aesthetic is in. At any rate, I can take or leave a lot of it, specifically chillwave. It isn't exactly wheelhouse music for me (let's not forget I've done features about Uncle Tupelo and Tom Waits this year) but I couldn't ignore the fact that a few of the biggest buzzmakers were regionally relevant.

Most notably, I direct your attention to Chaz Bundick, aka Toro y Moi. A fellow USC grad with whom I share a lot of mutual friends (ATTN: I have namedropped a celebrity with whom I am vaguely associated--at this time we ask that you be awestruck. Thank you - MGMT [not the band]), Chaz's project has exploded to international acclaim. It blows my mind that this dude who used to quietly walk around campus and play in a local pop-punk band is now an internationally recognized genre defining up-and-comer. I couldn't be happier for the guy, who by all accounts is one of the nicest, most humble dudes you could know.

What I'm getting at here is that, despite the fact that I've largely shrugged off chillwave, I'm happy to hear that I'll have some new TyM tracks to take in before long. For the second consecutive February, Chaz is releasing a new LP. Underneath the Pine drops on February 22, and you might prepare for a more full-band sound, as I hear he's expanded his stage show. This is a good thing and something I expressed a desire to see in my review of his Charleston show, back in April.

Here's to hoping there's no sophomore slump for Mr. Bundick--just more groovy tunes that lead me to engage in awkward whiteboy gyrations when no one else is around.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another DBT's album...already?

A week or two ago, the Drive-By Truckers announced the release of their eleventh studio album Go Go Boots, due in February of 2011. This comes on the heels (pun intended!) of last March's The Big To Do, which was anything but that. There were a few memorable tracks, but by and large it won't be remembered as one of the Truckers' finest works.

There's already a bit of hype surrounding the new album--apparently it'll feature a few tracks that die-hard fans have become enamored with in a live setting--but I'm a little reluctant to afford too much anticipatory energy to an album that's comprised of tracks from the same creative stretch as it's average predecessor.

The Truckers have never been release-shy, but in my opinion, they haven't put out a true classic since 2005's The Dirty South. Hard to believe it, but that was four LPs ago. The first post-Isbell era LP--2008's Brighter Than Creation's Dark--had a lot going for it, but was far too bloated to be cohesive (as I've pointed out.)

Here's hoping they put a boot up my doubting ass and release a rager. And maybe swing through Charleston, while they're at it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

3 Reasons to Get Excited for the New Decemberists Album

Earlier this year, I blogged about Colin Meloy playing a few new songs to an Australian audience. Nine months later, we were met with the announcement of the Decemberists' next album, The King Is Dead. Here are three reasons why I'm giddy with anticipation:

1. Scaling Back

The Decemberists, as a rule, don't make bad albums. 2009's Hazards of Love was good enough to land it in HSW's top 15 of the year, but I concluded its write-up with something of a caveat:
"I'd deem Hazards of Love a successful endeavor, but my hope is that the band gets back to creating vignettes as opposed to full-on movements."
Clearly Colin Meloy is an avid HSW reader, as he's taken my advice to heart. As recently reported, the D's will release The King Is Dead in January. Colin has suggested that the band is scaling back this time, and the new album is "going from reading a novel to reading a bunch of short stories." He went the literary route, but our metaphorical parallel is the same. This approach seems to suggest an album that's more in the vein of the earlier Decemberists LPs. This is a good thing.

2. Peter Buck

The King is Dead has already been called "The most pastoral, rustic record they've ever made" by Rolling Stone. That already seems like a wheelhouse description as far as my tastes are concerned, but the mention of Peter Buck further boosted my anticipation level. Most well known as the guitarist for R.E.M., Buck is contributing some of his expertise to a few of the tracks on The King Is Dead. While this in an of itself is more of an endorsement of the band than anything, I personally welcome his involvement because he's had something of a Midas touch: He's worked on records by The Replacements, Billy Bragg, and Eels, and produced one of my all-time favorite albums: Uncle Tupelo's March 16-20. Needless to say, I equate the combination of Peter Buck and pastoral, rustic records with quality results.

3. Gillian Welch

Gillian provides vocals on lead single "Down By the Water". While it's her only contribution, Gillian only seems to lend her talents at the right time. She's featured on works by Old Crow Medicine Show, Steve Earle, Bright Eyes, and of course features prominently on Ryan Adams' unimpeachable debut, Heartbreaker. Also, there's something nifty about two of your favorite musicians--who you previously assumed were unassociated--working together. Kinda feels like they're doing it just for you...


Not that there is one. But, of course, there will be. Hopefully they'll come closer than Atlanta, which to my knowledge is the closest they've ever made it to Charleston. I caught them in 2006, which was particularly awesome since I was directly insinuated into the night's events (see here for a short write-up...scroll down a bit.) Fingers crossed that an announcement will come soon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Poll: What's the Best Album of 2010?

It's a bit early for year-end lists to surface. But for the most part, the big splashers have seen the light of day, so it's likely that most music critics are cobbling together their yearly rankings. I've given it some thought for sure, but I've yet to reach a conclusion on any superlative award. So while I ponder the best and worst of 2010, I'll go ahead and extend the opportunity for my sprawling fanbase to contribute. All six of you. Including the spammers...

As always, the year's final poll question asks, simply, what the top release of 2010 was. Of course I couldn't include every worthy release, so I culled 11 major LPs that dropped at various points throughout the year. I pondered including a "none of the above" option, but, dammit, I'm sick of that one winning. Surely everyone could stand behind one of the provided options, right?

Voting ends on December 30th, concluding "Best Of '10 Month." By then, my choices will have been made public, so try not to be swayed by my mighty influence.

October 20, 2010: The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers
South Carolina State Fair (Columbia, SC)
October 20, 2010

State fairs are a sensory overload, a veritable wonderland awash in colored lights, enticing aromas, and hypersalanited/sugared foods. And while the sonic element is there, it usually takes the form of shuddering steel tracks, choruses of screams, and barking carnies.

Music? It's there, but usually none-too-exciting. There's the old-school pump-organ carnival music played during carousel rides. There's the techno-pop that pumps over high-speed thrill rides. There are performers, too. Usually country bands whose demographic appeal is shared by, say, pig races and jam contests.

That's why I was just as surprised as any to hear that the Avett Brothers were playing the South Carolina State Fair in Columbia. Sure, they have that hayseed element (or at least they used to--thanks a lot, I and Love and You) but they're hardly an unconditional country band. It was easy to spot the Avett fans milling about the fairgrounds. There were the alt-country hipsters, clad in tight jeans and snap shirts but betrayed by their scruffy jawlines and black-rim glasses (guilty). There was the hipster contingency; skinny-jeans and ironic t-shirts on proud display. The prep crowd showed up, straight outta the frat house and into the grandstand area. And, like any fanbase worth its salt, there were the band emulators--in the Avetts' case, stick-thin beardos sporting undershirts, aviators and bandanas wrapped around their foreheads. All these types speckled the rivers of fairgoers, and it was apparent that tonight's performers weren't your everyday state fair act.

It isn't such a stretch, I suppose. The band has the reputation of road warriors, and it seems like state fairs are a right of passage for many bands. I guess it's just surprising they hadn't already played a fair. According to Scott, "The North Carolina State Fair never invited us!" So here they were, treading the boards of a state fair for the first time--not long after playing Radio City Music Hall, and having played virtually every indie rock Mecca in the country. But humility is a key ingredient to the Avetts' appeal, so it never did it seem undignified for the band to be jamming a hundred yards from the tilt-a-whirl.

We couldn't have asked for a better night to see an outdoor show. Rain was forecasted, but it stayed clear and cool. A full moon rose in the eastern sky. The stage was backdropped by Williams-Brice Stadium, home to my beloved South Carolina Gamecocks. And what's better: I had the pleasure of watching it all from a front-row, center seat. The band was set back a bit--I couldn't have grabbed Scott's ankle or anything--but obviously, it yielded quite an intimate view for my party and me.

Despite these immaculate conditions, the show was just average by the Avetts' standards (Translation: Twice as good as anyone else's best show. That's a bit of a hyperbole, but make no mistake, an average Avetts show is still something to write home about.) Perhaps it was due to the sedated crowd, but it wasn't the overdriven experience I'm used to. The band played a few songs at a slower-than-normal pace, specifically "Salina", "And It Spread", and "I Would Be Sad". "Traveling Song" was played in half-time--sped up for instrumental bridges, but then slowed down again. It was an interesting take, but I think it's a song that's best suited for a frenzied tempo. The set was heavy on I and Love and You material, including set opener "Tin Man". Admittedly, I was won over by "Slight Figure of Speech", whose album version I'm not particularly crazy about. "Laundry Room" is a certified classic by now, and is a track made for outdoor performances.

Scott played a stellar version of "Murder and the City" (Seth was there for harmony support). Unfortunately, was sullied by the 50-year-old behind me who insisted on a full-volume cellphone conversation for most of the song. Song of the night honors for "Colorshow", which never fails to deliver in a live setting. The Avetts weren't shy about screaming the verses, either--I imagine passing fairgoers must have found it abit jarring. "Down With the Shine", an unreleased track that actually post-dates I and Love and You, was on my wishlist, so it was nice to hear that early on. I hoped and prayed for an appearance of "Talk on Indolence"--if nothing else, for the purpose of stirring up the largely docile crowd--but we never heard it. The two-song encore consisted of "Shame" and "Die, Die, Die"--irrespectively the first two tracks on Emotionalism. It was a nice way to end the concert, with two wheelhouse tracks.

Crowd notwithstanding, it was a fine show. The lack of energy was fine, really. It was befitting of the environment--state fairs are exciting, sure, but not in a moshpit kind of way. They provide self-paced entertainment, and I don't think the bands are meant to overshadow that. The Avetts were conscious of their surroundings, and that might have meant scaling it down a bit. Who knows. The point remains that it's an experience I'll never forget--even if I won't be able to recall every little detail about every song (although, quick mention: Joe Kwon broke a cello string at one point and was forced to hastily restring. Did it like a pro, in time for his next cue.) But the point is that in five years, I'll be able to say  that I was front-row, center when the Avetts played the State Fair. Not a bad recollection, if you ask me.

Set list and blurrier-than-usual iPhone photography:

Tin Man
Paranoia In B Flat Minor
Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms
Down With the Shine
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
Pretty Girl at Cedar Lane
The Fall
Murder In the City
Old Joe Clark
January Wedding
I Would Be Sad
And It Spread
Traveling Song
Laundry Room
Slight Figure of Speech
Kick Drum Heart
I and Love and You
Blue Ridge Mountain Blues

Die, Die, Die

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tom Waits Appreciation: Conclusion

Having read all these Waits album primers, the looming question is this: Why should anyone need primers to enjoy something? Isn't taste subjective, the result of some visceral appeal that varies from person to person? Can't someone just not like Tom Waits?

The answer of course, is yes. My goal in writing this feature was not to achieve a 100% conversion rate among readers. It's to stave off a greater fear: that potential fans might write Tom off because of his superficial idiosyncracies, without actually delving into his catalog a bit. Perhaps I'm sensitive to it because I went through the process. I started out reluctant, skeptical, hesitant--unwilling to believe that there was much of anything to this demon-throated weirdo. He was just catnip for critics, intentionally weird in an attempt to draw attention to himself.

But I put faith in the Waits fans I knew. I abandoned my prejudice and realized that maybe there is a reason most credible artists list him as an influence. Maybe there's a reason most of his albums are championed by both critics and musical intellects alike. Like many, I started with the approachable stuff and moved on from there. Giving Tom a chance has proved beneficial for more reasons than just the dozen or so albums of his that I'm crazy about, or even the unmathced live experience I'll brag about til the day I die. Being a Waits lover has made me an all-around better music fan. It's made me a more discriminating listener, and has both widened my scope and refined my tastes. After learning to love Tom, you truly feel like you're ready for anything.

So, again, my goal isn't to prove objecitvely that everyone should love Tom Waits and you're wrong if you don't. My whole point here, I guess, is to give the uninitiated music fan some context. I want it to be a call to action fans who say, "Yeah, I've heard of him, but I don't know anything about him." Read the primer, go with what sounds promising, and enjoy the journey. Even if you never become as big a fan as I am, you can at least take solace in the fact that you're listening to one of the most passionate, fearless musicians of our time. No musician, to my knowledge, is as fiercely respected by his fans and peers as Tom Waits. Here's to hoping you join that camp.


Here are the links to the other entries in this series:

November 5, 2010: The Felice Brothers

The Felice Brothers
w/Adam Stephens
The Handlebar (Greenville, SC)
November 5, 2010

Upon our arrival at the Handlebar, my friend and I were greeted by a chipper girl working the door.

"Have you guys been to The Handlebar before?"

We told her no, that we were from Charleston. Her look was one of surprise. "You came all the way from Charleston?"

Perhaps her reaction should have served as a clue as to Greenville's perception of the Felice Brothers. Judging by the turnout--or lack thereof--the Felice Brothers' drawing power in the upstate was minimal. But the same band had filled a similarly sized venue a year ago in Charleston. It's not like they're some unknown band, either. They've got credentials: Opening stints for Dave Matthews Band, Bright Eyes and Old Crow Medicine Show; steady festival billing; and a handful of well-received LPs. Why shouldn't the folk rockers be able to draw a few hundred folks a show--some who are willing to make a 3.5 hour trip?

Who knows. The fact remains that, by my estimation, less than a hundred warm bodies were in attendance for the Felice Brothers' stop in Greenville. Never a beerline, no problem pushing up close. These are good things. But it reflected poorly on the town, and might dissuade the band from returning--or the venue from having them back. This is a bad thing.

The opener, Adam Stephens of Two Gallants, played a particularly mundane set that didn't warrant much interest from those unfamiliar with his stuff (like me, for example.) The band didn't take long to come out, but when they did it was immediately apparent that Ian was not well. He spent  most of the set gazing at his guitar. He looked tired, or distant, or strung out from the road, or something. Perhaps he was reacting to the lackluster audience. Who knows. He stepped off for a song, handing his guitar to fiddler/washboardist Greg Farley. Ian maintained his look of disinterest as slunk offstage. I wasn't entirely certain we'd see him back. He never once acknowledged the crowd--not a wave, not a thank you, not a nod. Admittedly, he sounded fine singing the likes of "Ruby Mae", "Take This Bread", and set closer "Frankie's Gun"--he even got a little fiery when roaring out "Run Chicken Run". But overall, Ian was unengaged and vacant, and it was almost a little hard to watch.

Thankfully, James Felice--the burly, bearded keys player and singer--refused to let the crowd leave disappointed. He helped the band maintain a nice pace, liberally injecting mid-song banter and exuding that down-home charisma for which the band has become known. Farley was also his usual ebullient self, wandering around the stage and gesturing in a vaguely hip-hoppish fashion. On a few songs, the band employed a drum machine--sort of an odd twist, but it's refreshing in the sense that they're not afraid to step out of their old-timey niche a bit. I don't like it when artists run in place, and while the Felice Brothers should ease into new territory for fear of scaring off their core audience, I'm glad they're doing it at all.

The song of the night was "Whiskey In My Whiskey", the James-led barroom romp that's distinguished itself as a fan favorite. It was nice to hear a charged version of "I Got What I Need", featuring just James on vocals and Ian on guitar. The song, as it appears on Tonight At the Arizona, is delicate and barebones, James offering wounded lyrics in a hushed quiver over a fingerpicked acoustic. But at the Handlebar, it took the form of an anthem, James belting lines and pounding his chest during the chorus of "I got what I need." We heard a few unreleased tunes, which were summarily well-received. James confirmed that their next album is currently in the mixing process. Hopefully it will see the light of day in early 2011 (that's just a guess on my part). Live staples "Helen Fry", "White Limousine", and "Lou the Welterweight" were also nice to hear.

"Katie Dear" was my favorite song from last year's Yonder Is the Clock (and one of this blog's top 20 songs of the year), but I thought it suffered a bit from Ian's lack of interest. A number of its drawn-out vocal notes came out a bit wobbly, or died prematurely. Oddly enough, the ballad stemmed out of a strange rap cover or something, featuring bassist Christmas on lead vocals. Look, I thought "Buried In Ice" was one of the best songs on Yonder, but Christmas doesn't really belong behind the main mic.

The set was short--sixteen songs in all. The show paled in comparison to their Charleston performance in 2009, but it's never a chore to watch a talented band play good songs. I just hope Ian has snapped out of whatever funk he was in, for the sake of future audiences.

As per usual, here's the setlist and some blurry iPhone pics:

Marlboro Man
Let Me Come Home
Ruby Mae
White Limousine
Helen Fry
Got What I Need
Fire At the Pageant
Lou the Welterweight
Whiskey In My Whiskey
Dance Hall (Christmas on vocals?)
Katie Dear
Take this Bread
Better Be (Farley on vocals)
Run Chicken Run

Frankie's Gun

Thursday, November 4, 2010


  • First of all, I'm thoroughly disappointed in myself for my lack of production in October. 8 measily posts? Anyway, I know nobody cares but I was shooting for 10 every month this year. At least I've already averaged that. At any rate, a thousand apologies...
  • The Decemberists' new album (already their 6th!) is called The King Is Dead and drops on January 18th. Here's hoping a big fat tour follows! A single is out too, entitled "Down by the Water". It's an excellent driving folk song and it sounds like they've scaled back the hyperconceptual approach. I suppose they couldn't get much more conceptual than a rock opera. Still, I'm sure they'll stir the pot somehow.
  • Eels' new album -- their second of 2010 -- is called Tomorrow Morning. It's actually quite a bit better than I'd expected. I'm always leery of a band releasing to albums in the same year, but I think Eels pulled it off. It's no all-time classic, but it's an able follow-up to End Times, which I thought was excellent.
  • 2009 noisemakers Girls are stirring. A new EP, Broken Dreams Clubs, is out. I haven't heard it but I'm sure it's charming and slightly manic. They're also well into the production of their sophomore LP.
  • You might have noticed I haven't concluded the Tom Waits piece. I still plan on it, don't worry. But in the meantime, here's a Waits-related tidbit: Reknowned Waits' guitarist Marc Ribot has released a lovely, minimalist instrumental guitar album called Silent Movies. It's not avante-garde or progressive jazz or anything. Just a quiet, subtle album of barebones guitar instrumentals. Perfect for Sunday morning coffee or stargazing. Those kinds of things.
  • Upcoming concerts: Felice Brothers tomorrow. That is all for now, unfortunately. Was hoping to make Bonnie "Prince" Billy in Decemeber, but that seems unlikely due to some scheduling stuff. Speaking of which...
  • I recently picked up Sings Greatest Palace Music by Bonnie "Prince" Billy. It features 15 re-records of songs by Palace Music, Will Oldham's band prior to taking on his BPB monicker. It was sort of passed over by critics, dismissed as being too slick and its songs lacking the character of the PM versions. I'm not well-versed in Palace Music, so my untainted reception was comparably warmer. I totally understand the reaction of afficianados, but those of us using it as a point of entry won't mind the polished approach. My personal favorite is "Gulf Shores," a beatific sunset ballad.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Poll Results 10: What Band's Upcoming Release Are You Most Anticipating?

Lots of blips on the radar right now. Which one is generating the most interest from the likes of you? Over a month ago, I wrote a little round-up of all of some of the bigger releases on the horizon. With so many reasons to be excited, which one has you all aquiver with anticipation?

6 (24%) - Radiohead
7 (28%) - Fleet Foxes
2 (8%) - Iron and Wine
2 (8%) - Bon Iver
4 (16%) - Bright Eyes
0 (0%) - The Strokes
1 (4%) - Sufjan Stevens
3 (12%) - Someone else entirely

In what I would consider something of an upset, the Fleet Foxes take the poll. Who can blame voters for their eagerness to find out if the Foxes can ably follow up their best-of-'08 debut? Some poll notes:
  • Radiohead had a strong showing, and why shouldn't it. It's not really a question of "Will their next album be any good?" More like, "How epic will it be?"
  • Bright Eyes takes third. No problem with that; it's been, what, four years since we've had a Bright Eyes album? Conor Oberst, of course, has stayed busy with solo albums and the Monsters of Folk project. Check those out if you haven't already, especially MOF.
  • The always popular "Damn your options suck" option came in third.
  • No love for the Strokes? Maybe their sub-par third album is to blame.
Thanks for participating. Keep your eyes on the blog for our final poll of the year. That's right: Best of 2010, comin' atcha.

October 29, 2010: Band of Horses

Band of Horses
w/Jenny and Johnny
North Charleston Performing Arts Center (Charleston, SC)
October 29, 2010

Never skip the opener. You never know who will provide bragging rights down the road. For instance, back in the summer of 2005, I saw Iron & Wine play the Music Farm here in Charleston. Before the show, my good friend and HSW contributor Thomas said, "Watch the opener. They're gonna be big." It's natural to react skeptically to those sorts of declarations, but Thomas knows his stuff, so I watched the opener closely amongst the thin early crowd. The lead singer was this skinny, pale dude with a beard. His arms were covered in tats. He sat behind a pedal steel guitar for a few songs, never doing much more than raking strums while sweeping the slide down the neck. I remember an excellent song about the Great Salt Lake. They closed with an ELO cover. They seemed a bit high. All in all, I was very impressed, but it'd be a year before Band of Horses released Everything All The Time. It remains one of my all-time favorite albums--one that will be forever linked with my college heyday.

Meanwhile, Band of Horses has blown up. Today's BOH is completely overhauled--lead singer Ben Bridwell is the only original member--but they still thrive on soaring indie-rock epics, thanks in no small part to Bridwell's golden pipes. But at any rate, they're an inspiration. Rising from the ashes of cult indie-outfit Carissa's Wierd, they've gone from sparsely-attended opening gigs to mainstages at sprawling festivals. Major label record deals, late-night performances, world tours...the whole bit. They even opened for Pearl Jam on this last tour. Bridwell provided Chris Cornell's vocal part to "I'm Going Hungry".

As unbelievable as it is to me, I get the sense that Bridwell is even more humbled and shocked by the band's rapid ascent. Onstage, he's loose and unpretentious. He's slightly self-deprecating too, calling out his own missteps and laughing at a botched lyric or flubbed note. It has the feel of a house show, where he's surrounded by his buddies who'd laugh along with him.

But perhaps this isn't the case everywhere. I've only seen BOH in two cities: Charleston and Columbia. Bridwell grew up in a suburb of Columbia, and currently lives outside of Charleston. Maybe Ben is more aware of his audience, chock full of acquaintances, and feels silly playing the rock star. One day I'll see them outside of the South, and then I'll be able to make an educated assessment. Until then...

I spent all Friday in the grip of toil, as my company was staging a two-day marketing convention. I was up before 6 a.m., and wasn't able to leave the grounds til after 8 p.m. This meant two things: Flirting with the show's start, and a tremendous amount of fatigue. Miraculously, the lady and I arrived at the venue in time to catch most of the opening act.

Jenny Lewis and all her various projects--Rilo Kiley, the Watson Twins, solo work--never commanded my interest. In fact, her "Jenny and Johnny" project with boyfriend and lucky son of a bitch Johnathan Rice, has actually garnered more of my interest than anything prior. Their album, I'm Having Fun Now, is better than I would have expected. So it was a treat to hear some of the songs live. Both Lewis and Rice are brilliant vocalists, and Rice actually reminded me of a young Ryan Adams onstage (Rice is only 27).

When BOH emerged, Ben Bridwell walked his toddler daughter--dressed for Halloween as a ladybug--on stage with him. She spent the first song--Infinite Arms standout "For Annabelle" (his daughter's name)--in Bridwell's arms, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones sparing her any premature hearing-loss. Throughout the night, gigantic projections, mostly of nature scenes, backdropped the band. I especially enjoyed the "For Annabelle" projection: looping footage of a silhouetted stag slowly walking against the glowing horizon.

The show covered a lot of ground, evenly spread between the band's three LPs. Literally. The band culled seven songs from each album. "First Song" from Everything All the Time is always a highlight for me. I didn't have to wait long for it either, as it was played second. The Infinite Arms tracks landed for the most part. Speedy rocker "NW Apt." featured signature Bridwell vocal inflections on the chorus: "Northwest Apartmeeyeeeent!" The encore led-off with guitarist Tyler Ramsey's Infinite Arms contribution "Evening Kitchen" (I wasn't the only one a tad disappointed that the emergence of an acoustic guitar didn't lead to a rare performance of "St. Augustine"--a track written by former member Matt Brooke, which suggests it's unlikely a BOH crowd will ever hear it). Bridwell made light of the bromantic nature of the performance, crooning his high harmonies lovingly at Ramsey, then punctuating the song with a loving embrace. "Older", a track penned by instrumentalist Ryan Monroe, sounds 500 times better live than it does on record.

The older songs already sound like classics. We heard the epics like "Great Salt Lake" and "The Funeral"; the soaring ballads like "Marry Song" and "No One's Gonna Love You"; and feelgood rockers like "Weed Party" and "The General Specific". On "The Funeral", Ben displayed some of that transparency and self-deprecation. His Les Paul apparently out of commission, he was given a Fender Telecaster, which prompted him to nervously mention, "This is the first time I've ever played this song on a different guitar." Later in the song, after flubbing a note, he chuckled "Jesus, this is hard on this guitar." Sure, it sucked a bit of the intensity out of such an unflinching rager, but it was still endearing.

Song of the night honors go to "Part One", a barebones ballad from Everything All the Time. I'd heard this one live at least once before, and it wasn't a particularly effusive performance. It sort of lingered in a semi-acoustic no-man's-land and struggled to take flight. However, the band has wisely decided to put a charge in the song, repackaging it as a fully electric affair. It really brought the house down.

The night closed on an interesting--and slightly pathetic, for one fan--note. Prior to the night's final song, Bridwell, an unabashed Georgia Bulldogs fan, addressed the crowd thusly: "I bet there are a lot of South Carolina Gamecocks fans here tonight. (applause) Any Georgia Bulldogs fans? (mix of applause and boos). Hey, don't boo, y'all need our help tomorrow!" Let me explain: The next day, Georgia would be playing Florida. A Georgia win meant that South Carolina would be a step closer to winning the conference division championship. Anyway, the band had recently released a cover of "Georgia" by Cee-Lo Green. Bridwell explained that the Bulldogs hadn't lost since the release, so they felt it was a fitting way to close the show. The performance--backed by projections of the Georgia marching band and mascot--was excellent, and the crowd erupted.

The band left the stage, the house lights went up, and the rows began to clear. Except for one outraged Clemson fan. The fan--a preppy guy, probably around 23--set into a profanity-laced tirade, roaring above the din, and gesturing furiously at the stage. He first chanted a rallying cry for his school, laid into the band for daring to promote Georgia, and told them to "Go the fuck back to Georgia." The only reaction the guy received were the laughs of the people around him, and he stomped off, still grumbling. It was odd. It was ridiculous. It was a pure Clemson. (Yes, I'm a biased USC fan. But c'mon--besides from the fact that Clemson is a rival of USC and has a dormant rivalry with Georgia, they had no part in the scenario in question. It was completely irrational.)

At any rate, I'm comfortable calling it the best Band of Horses show I've seen yet. It's actually the sixth time I've caught the band, moving them a tally ahead of the Avett Brothers for third place on my most-seen list (Ryan Adams and Wilco are first and second, respectively). BOH has done an excellent job adapting their sound to increasingly larger venues. But their songs weren't ever meant to be contained by small venues, nor could they be. This is music best-suited for cavernous amphitheaters and sprawling festival grounds. Band of Horses is right where they should be.


Tragically, I can't find a setlist for the show. I can, however, tell you exactly what songs the played. A few pictures follow.

From Everything All the Time:

The First Song
Wicked Gil
Our Swords
The Funeral
Part One
The Great Salt Lake ("There's no salt lake around here but we'll make one right now." -- BB)
Weed Party

From Cease to Begin:

Is There a Ghost
Ode to LRC
No One's Gonna Love You
The General Specific
Islands On the Coast
Marry Song
Cigarettes Wedding Bands

From Infinite Arms:

Evening Kitchen
For Annabelle
NW Apt.


Georgia (Cee-Lo Green cover)
Just The Other Side of Nowhere (Kris Kristofferson cover)

Other North Charleston Performing Arts Center Reviews:
The Avett Brothers
Ryan Adams
Old Crow Medicine Show w/Felice Brothers
Wilco w/Bon Iver