in the backwoods they understand

Sometimes a body just needs some boot stompin’, beer-swiggin’ American rock and roll. That’s precisely what the crowd got at the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin on February 15, 2014 when they saw The Wild Feathers.

Affectionately dubbed “The Snowed Out Tour” according to Taylor Burns due to the sub-freezing temperatures the Nashville quintet has been encountering throughout the Midwest, the band warmed up the room with a blazing set that hit every track on their debut record along with a new song. Highlights included “Hard Times,” crowd-sing-along favorite “Left My Woman,” and barn-burner “Backwoods Company”.  Also of note were their well-chosen encore choices by The Band and Led Zeppelin – where their main set was a stone-solid performance the encore was more akin to a jukebox sing-along with your best pals.

Part of The Wild Feathers’s appeal is the diversity found among the members – drummer Ben Dumas can bang it out with the best of them, Burns has a bluesy bent that calls to mind Chris Robinson, and Joel King’s garage-rock howl is tempered by Ricky Young’s gorgeous delivery. Preston Wimberly rounds out the four-part harmonies but really shines on guitar; his solos actually add to the quality of the songs as opposed to being indulgent or distracting. Such a wealth of talent in one place led to a truly memorable evening.

Opening acts Saints of Valory and Jamestown Revival were no slouches either – SOV’s anthemic rock is ready for an arena stage and the Jamestown boys have buckets of charm. The three bands will be touring together into March. Click here to get dates and free tour sampler.

You can check out all the photos from the show here.

SETLIST
Hard Wind, Backwoods Company, I Can Have You, If You Don’t Love Me, Got It Wrong, Hard Times, I’m Alive, How, Tall Boots, [New Song], American, Left My Woman, The Ceiling
ENCORE
Hey Hey What I Can I Do (Led Zeppelin cover), The Weight (The Band cover)

back, back, back

Caroline Smith has been very popular in Madison, and for years I’ve been on the outside looking in. I first saw Smith with her band The Goodnight Sleeps at the High Noon Saloon a couple of years ago and was so bored that I actually went to go sit down in the back. I tend to be overly picky about female singers, and women in the singer-songwriter category almost never are a hit with me. I saw the band again after the release of Little Wind and while there was a song or two that wasn’t bad I still just couldn’t get excited about Caroline Smith the way so many of my friends did.

Smith released a new album, Half About Being a Woman, in October and it was reported that her sound was markedly different. When I saw she was opening for Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires at the High Noon Saloon on December 4, 2013 I thought I should give her another look.

What I’d heard was right – she has taken a new approach to her style. Most notably she’s replaced her band and moved from acoustic to electric. The more robust instrumentation allows Smith to push her voice and for the first time I noticed how lovely it really is. While some remnants of her shared past with Haley Bonar and Colbie Caillat remain, the new material references soul and 90s R&B. Generally Smith seems to have left some of the wide-eyed earnestness behind and has embraced fun – her set was full of smiles and dancing and even a few of Kendrick Lamar’s verses. I’m still not head over heels for Smith, but I can say that I’ll no longer skip her set when she’s on the bill.

Caroline Smith returns to Madison & the High Noon on January 16, 2013 as part of FRZN Fest.
See more photos from her December show here.
You can find more from Caroline Smith here.

1. eddie money is broke. 2. johnny cash is poor.

When I opened Harmony Korine’s A Crack-Up at the Race Riots (1998) I had no intention of reading it – I just wanted to skim and get an idea of what it was like since the only thing I knew about it was that The Hope of the States had named their 2004 album after it and that Korine (Spring BreakersKids, Gummo) referred to it as his stab at writing “the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel.” Korine’s broken list of thoughts unfurled in front of me like a car crash, however, and I read the slim volume in one sitting.

Music often serves as a cultural touchstone in A Crack-Up at the Race Riots; there are fictional letters from Tupac Shakur, (mostly) innocuous rumors like “Flavor Flav is a classically trained pianist” and “Diana Ross hated the movie When Harry Met Sally,” and non sequiturs in the vein of, “my funnest memory is when I was travelling with Madonna on the Blonde Ambition tour and I got to meet Cat Stevens.”

Some of Korine’s references, though, are incidental and often brutal – a group of black girls in Elton John t-shirts beating a girl to a pulp in a parking lot, death as a result of snorting cocaine off a Pete Seeger record, two hanged teens with Prince’s name-symbol carved into their flesh. Music usually serves as an escape, but in Korine’s world it only further emphasizes the darkness.

For all the horror contained in the book’s 175 pages, Korine often achieves a style that is both beautiful and garish. The book is more like a gallery of disturbing images than cohesive prose or poetry; his vision is the literary equivalent of the works of Diane Arbus through the prism of methamphetamine. Is the litany of suicide, abortion, abuse, and sadness art, a Warholian Death and Disaster collection for the modern era? Or is it merely pulp, a satire, a foreshadowing of America’s increasing obsession with tabloid culture? Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to tear one’s eyes away.

The reissue of Harmony Korine’s A Crack-Up at the Race Riots will be available through Drag City on April 16, 2013.

comedown machine

Today I decided to drive to Best Buy to purchase a physical copy of an album on the day it came out. It’s not something I’ve done for years, but it is something I’ve done for every album by The Strokes except for their debut. Keep refreshing here for a mix of review, random thoughts, and photos.

4:00 PM
Left work, drove to Best Buy. Was able to find and buy the album in under two minutes because the music section is now minuscule and no one shops at Best Buy anymore.

6:05 PM
Currently annoyed that my Twitter statuses aren’t showing up all nice and pretty like this tutorial says they will.

6:10 PM
Pressed play to make a CD spin. WEIRD.

TAP OUT
Oh hello, 80s.
One person dance party. I really like the shimmy and bitchin’ 80s guitar solo. I don’t have to pretend to like the song. When one of your favorite bands puts out new material it’s always a little scary. I didn’t get into Angles and I feel weirdly guilty about it.

ALL THE TIME
RE: The chorus – Julian Casablancas is my favorite drunk, droning robot.

ONE WAY TRIGGER
When The Strokes released this song before the album I hated the falsetto. Still not into it. Less worried now that I know it’s not how Casablancas insists on singing for the entire album.
I like the frenzied guitar around 1:40 but in general wish the song would pop a Quaalude or two.

WELCOME TO JAPAN
So far the easiest time I’ve had understanding lyrics. The booklet is no help in that department.
“What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”
Casablancas doing an excellent job of intoning a disco creep. Intentional joke or the product of living in LA too long? Does he live in LA? I’m just assuming. No time for fact-checking. I’ll let the sound of this song convince me I’m right.

80S COMEDOWN MACHINE
Slow and perfect for a Sophia Coppola movie.
I’m into it but definitely drifted while listening/trying to take a photo of the booklet.

50/50
Distortion-filled nod to punk and surf rock. Reminds me of shows I used to go to in high school, but Casablancas’s high notes elevate it. Not my favorite.
“I will say ‘don’t judge me.'”

SLOW ANIMALS
This is more my style.
I am digging this more and more as the song goes on. So far it’s the only track that I plan to listen to again as soon as the record ends.

PARTNERS IN CRIME
A very Strokes-y guitar jangle but overall trying to be too gritty. God I love that first album. My older brother gave it to me for my 18th birthday. He also gave me a pair of gloves and tried to kill himself with sleeping pills. Thinking about it, I’m sort of surprised I don’t hate Is This It?, considering.

CHANCES
Instrumentally into it, but I wish Julian would ditch the falsetto. Most of the vocals are okay, but the high wailing is just not doing it for me. Repeated listens may get me over it.

HAPPY ENDING
Yep, I’ll take this one, too. I’d love to see them live again. Hey, The Strokes, how much money do I have to offer you to play Is This It? straight through for me? We’ve missed the ten year anniversary mark, can I pray for a 15th anniversary tour?

CALL IT FATE, CALL IT KARMA
I’ve fallen into a Vaseline-lensed 50s dream.
I have no idea what this song has to do with The Strokes or the rest of the album, but I kind of like its completely weird kitsch.

6:50 PM
Comedown Machine has reached its end.
Listening to “Slow Animals” again.
Playing a CD on iTunes takes all the fun out of listening to a CD – you know if there’s going to be a hidden track or not. There is not. Is that a thing bands even do anymore? I really, really miss the excitement of exploring a new record. Most of my listening these days is on Spotify in the car or from a digital press copy. I’m grateful for both but am glad I grew up listening to music with some focus and effort.
Now giving opening track “Tap Out” another listen.
Okay, still good. It wasn’t just the excitement of getting to hear a new Strokes record.

6:58 PM
One more listen to “Slow Animals” for good measure. I think it’s a good natural progression of their sound. I wish the vocal mix was a little cleaner though.
Something about parts of it reminds me of the Neverending Story theme song. Anyone else?

7:04 PM
Comedown Machine is nowhere near my favorite Strokes record, but I do like it quite a bit more on first listen than Angles. I had more measured expectations for this release and was pleasantly surprised. Not every song lands for me, but I like more than I don’t. I should revisit Angles and give it a fair shake after putting too much pressure on it two years ago.

Thus concludes our live-blogging experiment of Comedown Machine by The Strokes. What’s the last album you went to the store to buy? Let us know in the comments!

all the city’s left for you

I’ve been digging on California Wives since we first heard them this summer. On January 25, 2013 I finally got a chance to check them out at the High Noon Saloon as part of FRZN Fest in Madison, Wisconsin. Playing a bulk of their album, Art History, California Wives evoke the 80s without being kitsch. Their sound is firmly planted in the present but one immediately knows the familiar landscape of the band’s upbringing.

Art History‘s songs are well-crafted, but they take on a new urgency and depth live. “Better Home” was the set’s apex, crashing relentlessly over the crowd during the song’s last two minutes. The band smartly reserved their self-proclaimed danciest songs for the end, knocking out “Marianne”, “Purple”, and “Blood Red Youth” in quick succession. Combined with charming banter and visual panache, California Wives gave one of the most solid performances I’ve seen in awhile.

Click on any of the photos below to see more pictures of California Wives, or click here.

Jayson Kramer
Graham Masell
Joe O’Connor
Dan Zima

always it’s in my head

I know I’ve said it many times already, but another affirmation won’t hurt: Night Moves is one of my favorite bands to see live. Last week we featured a video mixtape from bassist Micky Alfano before their show in Madison, Wisconsin at the High Noon Saloon on January 24, 2013 for FRZN Fest and then caught up with the band that night. Their performance was one of the tightest I’ve seen by them – they’ve settled into a well-worn groove of a band whose members are comfortable with each other. Be sure to catch them on tour and let us know what you think!

Click on any of the photos for more shots from the night, or click here.

strangers illuminated

Whitney Mann is an artist I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know not through recordings but in a live setting. Her voice is unique – cavernous but able to blow you down, vulnerable but still strong as an old oak tree. Mann scoops under the notes and overturns them, creating a series of surprise attacks.

On her latest EP, This Little Light of Mine, Mann lets her voice step just outside the spotlight and lets tradition take center stage. The familiar title track is impeccably arranged, turning a song that’s been heard a million times before into something new and exciting. Mann gets back to her own roots with the instrumental closer “Stroll Through the Park”, a track that reintroduces her childhood playing piano to her songwriting process.

The EP’s stunner is “The Cruelest Thing”. The song is all but guaranteed to be stuck in your head for days and pulls the punches that those who’ve seen Whitney Mann perform live have come to expect. While there are some gutsy hollers, it’s the first lines of the verses that pull themselves back, revealing the plumb line of defeat that anchors the louder frustration of a love gone cold.

This Little Light of Mine dropped 11.20.12.
Find out more about Whitney Mann at her official website.