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February 24, 2006

What A Dismal Weekend of Music

Sad panda

It appears to be a pretty low key weekend in terms of your options for musical entertainment. No real big name acts coming through, and nothing in particular of note on a local level. However, there are always recommendations to be made, so I will try to point you in the right direction.

First of all, I think that the best option for anyone will be going to catch Neil Young's concert movie, Neil Young: Heart of Gold in Hillcrest (see my post from yesterday.) Reviews have been positive across the board, check out the Rotten Tomatoes page for a sampling.

Pink Froyd plays Saturday at Winston's

My second promising diversion would be Pink Froyd, Saturday at Winston's. This Pink Floyd tribute band will be playing "Dark Side of the Moon" in its entirety. I saw the band perform "The Wall" about a year ago, and it was a great time. "Dark Side of the Moon" is one of those records that people know inside and out, so its a treat to hear it in a live setting and remember why you listened to it every night for a two year stretch of your life. When they played "The Wall", they divided it into two sets and played a third set of audience requested Pink Floyd, so I imagine more of the same will be in order. The only question I have for the band is what the deal with the name is. It lacks the obvious pun quality that seems like a requirement for a tribute band. Maybe I am just missing it...

If revisiting classic rock icons is not to your liking, there are always checking out artists who have not yet attained "Legendary" or even "Known" status. The Union Tribune's "Liner Notes" blog recomends a couple of local acts that sound relatively harmless, and a big party at the Casbah on Saturday:

Goodbye Blue Monday, Via Satellite and Manuok at S.D.'s best rock club Saturday for Loud + Clear Records' 4th Anniversary Party at the Casbah. Also performing: new L+C signing neonthief and Adam Gnade...don't miss this rare chance to catch his live show, which has been known to feature "six-person drumlines, girls banging on wine bottles with butter knives and a basement full of drunk, happy kids on electric guitars, piano, tambourine, bass, organ, homemade percussion, hand claps, you name it," according to his Web site.

So there you go. I'll let you know how Neil Young is.

The Strokes First Impressions of La Jolla

strokes rock and roll.

Tickets to see The Strokes go on sale tomorrow, Saturday the 25th at 10:00 AM. They are playing on Tuesday, March 28th at UCSDs Rimac Arena. Tickets are 25 dollars. If you haven't seen The Strokes before, and this is coming from a person who at one point in time came back from a family trip to Spain EARLY to see them and The White Stripes perform in New York, just imagine the album played note for note, really loud. It's a fun experience if you like the music, but you're always feeling a bit unfulfilled.

Ticket Master Link.

Friday Charts - 2/24/06

Here's our weekly look at the most popular albums at a popular file sharing site. This should be used to judge which albums are the most anticipated releases among people with more eclectic music taste than the people buying the albums that make it onto the more official charts. They're also a good indication of what you could maybe find on the internet if you searched really hard. This week, when available, links will take you somewhere where you can sample music from the album:

1. The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
2. The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
3. Calexico - Garden Ruin
4. Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
5. Liars - Drums Not Dead
6. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
7. Granddaddy - Just Like The Fambly Cat
8. Islands - Return To The Sea
9. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming
10. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies

Several new entries this week, with most of the top ten surprisingly having been reviewed by the omnipresent Pitchfork, (See: Secret Machines, Sunset Rubdown, Destroyer, Liars.) The Liars in particular has been floating around for a while and really took off this week because of that review.

Sunset Rubdown is a side project of Wolf Parade singer Spencer Krug, for those interested. They have released two EPs in addition to the forth coming full length mentioned above. I found the Destroyer album to be interesting enough to warrant a couple listens, it is theatrical and dramatic. The other two new albums to hit the top ten this week I am not interested in so much. I do not like the Liars style music, and I am shocked that the Fiery Furnaces can be as popular as they are. We saw them open for the Strokes a few months before Blueberry Boat came out, and months later, as I read the applause given to the album I had to take a deep breath as I realized it was the same band. Lastly, keep in mind that the Flaming Lips album has nearly twice the seeders as any onther release on here.

February 23, 2006

The Cream of San Diego's Crop


I didn't learn about this competition until I picked up a flyer about it from Winston's, but it's not too late to still check it out. It's being put on by San Diego Music Scene, a self described "collective designed to showcase, educate, and promote the vast array of local artists and bands." Pretty much, they are putting on a huge battle of the bands style competition, but with an innovative category break down by day of the week. Mondays feature singer-songwriters, Tuesdays are open to under 21 crowds, Wednesdays are for bands and Thursdays are Hip Hop focused. There's still time to catch the last week of the opening round, with performances at Blind Melons in PB, SDSU's Hot Monkey Love Cafe and Dream Street in OB. The finals take place March 8th at Blind Melons. Personally, I am shocked that there are that many MCs in San Diego, but there's nothing like an old fashioned Battle of the Bands to finding an act you previously knew nothing about.

More more info check out www.sandiegomusicscene.org

Neil Young Opens His Heart of Gold To San Diego


Neil Young: Heart of Gold is Neil Young's new concert film, and after a limited release it expands to San Diego this weekend. My friend Andrew, who went to college with Young's daughter and met the man himself once, says it is one of the best concert films he's seen in a long time. It is playing at the Landmark Hillcrest exclusively. Here's the link to the trailer and showtimes for Friday, Saturday & Sunday.

To help publicize the movie, Neil Young appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, the issue before Kanye appeared wearing a crown of thorns and two issues before Mariah Carey. The magazine published an interesting "Lost Songs" playlist, detailing the "stellar songs on not-so-stellar albums", of which Young has his fair share. The tracklisting is also available online, and you can listen to is for free if you register for a free Rhapsody account and install a small browser plugin, no stand alone player required.

Inexplicably, there are two songs missing from the playlist if you try to listen to them using the Rolling Stone link.

-"Will to Love" from American Stars 'n Bars
-"Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze" from Re-ac-tor

There's also a wide variety of Neil Young videos covering pretty much every facet of his career available at youtube.com. There's solo Neil in '72, with Crazy Horse, the short lived rock-a-billy album and playing with the Grateful Dead in '91. The rock-a-billy video in particular is a "gotta see it to believe it" video. No wonder people thought that MTV thing wouldn't last.

Bob Marley Was Here

In honor of the last ever "Bob Marley Day" reggae fest, (the promoters were forced to drop the artist's name from the festival for legal reasons), here are MP3s of a San Diego concert by the real deal. It is hard for people my age to imagine the time when Bob Marley was a living and breathing performer touring America. His image has for so long graced dorm room walls that he's sort of forever rendered a still image. But he did tour, and played San Diego a couple times. These MP3s are from a show at the Civic Theatre on May 25th, 1976. Bob Marley would have turned 61 this month, and it is interesting to imagine his role as an elder statesman of music. We can only hope two things: One, that he would not be recording albums "featuring" guest stars on every track, and Two, that the big Snoop Dogg does make it to that age. Because Snoop will be an awesome old guy.

Download the MP3s below. Be sure to check out the funky, sleazy organ that creeps into the "Everything is gonna be alright" part of No Woman No Cry. It's a nice little change to a song you've no doubt heard countless times.

1. Trench Town Rock
2. Burnin' And Lootin'
3. Them Belly Full
4. Rebel Music
5. I Shot The Sheriff
6. Want More
7. No Woman No Cry
8. Lively Up Yourself
9. Roots, Rock, Reggae
10. Rat Race
11. Positive Vibration
12. Get Up Stand Up
13. No More Trouble
14. War -> No More Trouble

Thoughts on the Indie Music Store "Apocalypse"

I read a Pitchfork article today entitled "Best Buy to Indies: Drop Dead." It is basd on a blog written by Patrick Monaghan, the president of an independent record label. Evidently, several major Indie labels have struck deals with Best Buy wherein the stores pay for preferential treatment in advertisements and in-store positioning, and Best Buy purchases a much larger quantity of their merchandise. In this case, Best Buy has decided to sell albums by these labels, which include The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene for $7.99. Mr. Monaghan sees this as a death knell for independent music stores:

"If indie retail disappears completely where are the baby bands going to develop into the bands large enough to appear at BB or to sell a song to an ad or The OC? Where do the hip kids who devour Pitchfork and Punk Planet and Venus looking for their next cool band find that band if nothing exists to support smaller bands in the first place?

I feel like I can see a possible end and it's pretty sad, and not just because it's the business that I'm in..."

He then goes on to quote Martin Luther King, Jr. This argument reminded me of a recent entry I read in Mark Cuban's blog. Cuban addresses all of the Hollywood executives and theatre owners who see the ever shrinking window of DVD releases as a similar death knell to their theatre chains. Cuban remarks:

"Not a single person said "It could hurt our business, but we will just have to work harder to bring people in to our theaters". Not a single person said, "It will make us have to work harder and create a better value and experience for our customer...." No one even remotely associated with the industry even attempted to spin the situation. No one attempted to leverage the publicity (except for us of course) to their advantage."

This seemingly goes hand in hand with the quote that Matador Records president Gerard Cosloy gave to Pitchfork:

"Cool record stores should have something else up their sleeves besides using Best Buy as the bogeyman."

I think that both people are absolutely correct. Both record store and theatre ownersare in businesses which have witnessed tremendous changes within the past decade, and even more drastic changes are only going to come in the next few years. If a independent record stores only plan to deal with this issue is to hope that, like an organic farm, people are willing to pay more for a product just to cast your vote for how the world should be, they will fail. Obviously, the record stores will never be able to match Best Buy's album prices, but they need to think of some ways to make their products have an increased value over the CD you buy at Best Buy, much as the major labels have begun packaging DVDs and other extras with CDs to give them value over downloads. A couple ideas that lept to my mind were that autographed copies of CDs, (provided by the labels), could be seen as being worth the extra few dollars. Or possibly the establishment of Frequent Buyer clubs, with CD preview listenings or in-store concerts being the rewards for purchasing multiple CDs. The sentiment that a plain CD is too expensive is not going to be going away anytime soon.

Also, if Mr. Monaghan believes that without independent record stores, the "kids who devour Pitchfork" will not be able to find the next cool band, he would be no doubt interested to learn that all five of the CDs that Pitchfork reviewed today are available for purchase on Amazon.com. In addition to the thousands of music blogs making recommendations, there are services such as Pandora and last.fm designed to provide suggestions based on your exact musical preferences. It seems to me that many people who twenty years ago would have opened up a record store, have found newer, and more relevant outlets for their passions. Mr. Monaghan's frustrations are understandable, but he should be banding together with other independent record stores to offer the consumer something that no other retail entity can, thereby justifying the stores existence in this wild, wacky iTunes era.

February 22, 2006

We Conned Buffalo Out Of Their Best Band

The Bloody Hollies - If Footmen Tire You.jpg

Buffalo, NY has had its fair share of negative things happen to it as a city. The Bills best football player happened to be one OJ Simpson, there was that stretch of four consecutive Super Bowl losses, and that movie that Vincent Gallo made. If there is any justice, Buffalo will also one day be known as the city that let The Bloody Hollies move to San Diego. It could be there own personal curse of the Bambino.

The Bloody Hollies have wound up in San Diego after relocating from Buffalo. They have a new album out now called 'If Footmen Tire You..." and from listening to the MP3s on their website, there can be no way that their concerts would not be one of the best experiences you'll ever have in a San Diego music venue. Their songs that I've heard contain every element necessary for a kick ass rock song: a singer whose vocal chords occasionally veer dangerously close to shredding themselves, a varied and energetic set of riffs that give way to a wailing guitar solo at exactly the right time, and that setting on your guitar that sounds juuuuuust below the level of distortion that mainstream radio stations want to play.

I hear traces of The Hives in the songs energy and style, but more spontaneous and with none of the studio polish that took the danger out of The Hives music. Fortunately, there are a 18 MP3s on their website under the "Listen" section. My favorites include "Swing", which features the best unexpected harmonica solo since Outkast's "Rosa Parks", "Downtown Revolver", and a live version of "Cut It Loose."

The official website is www.bloodyhollies.com. The band are currently planning more shows in San Diego after returning from a European tour.

In The Aeroplane Oslo The Sea

They Love Neutral Milk Hotel in Norway!

I stumbled across this interesting tribute album a few weeks ago, and thought it worth sharing. It's a collection of Norwegian musicians who all participated in the message boards at www.vg.no, which are definitely not in English. Evidently, they all shared a love of Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, and instead of doing what the rest of the album's fans did, (start a music blog,) they each recorded one of the tracks and pieced together a tribute album, appropriately called "Each Song A Little More Than We Could Dare To Try".

This is not a standard tribute piece, like the abomination to Sly Stone this years Grammy's. Artis of the caliber of Korn, Carlos Santana and Norah Jones are nowhere to be found. Instead, you've got a bunch of unknown Norwegians interpretting the songs in various different styles. Some are obviously using higher fidelity recording setups than the others, you've got male and female singers, and a few of the songs with words are now rendered into instrumentals.

Many people may balk at this idea, but I think it's a really interesting little piece of outsider art. The songs obviously aren't intended as replacements for the originals, and I'm sure that these Norwegians probably didn't think I would ever be posting their MP3s half the world away. What these versions really do for me is illustrate the overall strength of Jeff Mangum's original work. That songs with such simple structure and such dense subject matter could prove themselves enjoyable when interpretted by such a diverse crew of obscure musicians, it really speaks to the songs greatness. The songs that I believe work best here are "The King of Carrot Flowers, pt.1" by Motor Kiss, which features an awesome mid-song guitar solo, and a quieter, more reserved duet of "Holland, 1945" by Spilk/Mortasam. You also get "Communist Daughter" by Skeletal Basketball Shoe, which, while not an improvement on the original, is a fantastic name for a band. It reads like one of those shirts in Thailand where they apparently stick English words together just because they like the look of them.

Download the MP3s below. It's defintely worth a shot for any fan of the original:

1. Motor Kiss - The King Of Carrot Flowers pt 1
2. Orgone Accumulator - The King Of Carrot Flowers pt 2-3
3. Apples & Milk - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
4. Subsqueeze - Two-Headed Boy
5. Jørund Almås/ Mr Kronskij - The Fool
6. Spilk / Mortasam - Holland, 1945
7. Skeletal Basketball Shoe - Communist Daughter
8. Proskirt Massiva - Oh Comely
9. Rockette - Ghost
10. Rockette - Untitled
11. Captain Democracy - Two-Headed Boy pt 2

February 21, 2006

Approximate the Sensation of Knowing Me Thru Last.fm

Last.fm logo

"I never thought he'd be able to recreate the experience of actually knowing him, but this is pretty close." - Jerry Seinfeld, regarding Kramer's "Peterman Reality Tours"

For the longest time, one of my bigger regrets has been that it is, like Jerry remarks above, difficult for me to emulate the experience of actually knowing me for those that I've never crossed paths with. But now, thanks to the fantastic techology over at last.fm it is now possible to approximate the equivalent of having my music collection on shuffle in your home or office whenever you want!

Last.fm is a website that tracks what you are listening to on your computer. Listening to an expansive collection of music on shuffle has long been a favored activity of mine. 90% of any given day in college was spent this way, and probably about 33% now. You can pick any particular song that they have already, and once you get started you can skip the ones you dislike. So far the experience has been quite akin to my collection on random, although it hasn't played any of my artists that I've listened to the most: the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan or Tom Waits. I'm still curious about how they determine what plays on your particualr radio station, but everything I've heard so far actually is stuff that I've played on my computer. Artist, song and album names and album art are all included in the standalone player, which requires a small download. Registration with last.fm is also required to listen, although you don't have to participate in their music tracking program. Thousands of other radio stations besides mine are available, based on other peoples playlists, or customized by you entering an artist or song that you like.

Sign up for last.fm here
Download the music player here
And finally, my personal user page and radio stream

You Da Man Man - Six Demon Bag

Man Man - Six Demon Bag

I still remember the first time I ever popped in a Tom Waits CD. It was a copy of Frank's Wild Years that a friend had left at my house in high school and I didn't make it through the second song. The wheezing rasp of the singers voice combined with the bizarre calliope meets 1920s Europe was something that I knew I could never find pleasurable. Of course I was wrong, and I now realize that at that point in time, being familiar with only Classic Rock and Alternative hits played on the radio, I was in no way ready for Tom Waits. My process of learning to appreciate and then love Tom Waits can best be compared to the concept of gateway drugs. Diving right into Frank's Wild Years would be equivalent to a high school freshman shooting up heroin before they've had a chance to explore their limits with cigarettes, (Closing Time & The Heart of Saturday Night), then beer, (Nighthawks at the Diner), and then liquor, (Small Change), before gradually working up the ladder to the really hard (and borderline illegal) stuff, both drug and music-wise.

The analogy out of the way, we can then fast forward to the present day, where simply the slightest comparison to Tom Waits in a review is enough to make me eagerly seek out a new artist. Oftentimes the reviews are misguided. One review I read of Joanna Newsome's album compared her voice to both Tom Waits and Jeff Mangum. The author must have been joking, or somehow accidentally typed those two artists names as he was trying to write "Miss Piggy undergoing invasive surgery." The problem with reviews is that it is impossible to really judge why an artist is being compared to Tom Waits. With Joanna Newsome, it was evidently an attempt to illustrate that an artists voice is outside the conventions of what you think a singer should sound like. A comparison made to M Ward was more thank likely referring to tone of Waits' earliest material, since the subject matter, and vocal stylings could not have been more different. Captain Beefheart may have inspired Waits' gruff vocal stylings, but doesn't have the underlying pop sensibilities of the man who managed to write songs covered by the Eagles and Rod Stewart.

All in all, Tom Waits remains an artist so unique that in some MP3 playing software, you can label a particular songs genre as "Tom Waits." Though his fans seem to be numerous on the internet, it seems like I never run into them in real life. For those of us in San Diego who do appreciate our hometown hero, I finally have a CD that authentically approximates the experience of listening to one of Waits' late 80s or early 90s albums: freaky, weird and guaranteed to have 90 percent of your friends asking you to put something else on.

Man Man is the band and Six Demon Bag is the album. The band already has one album under their belt but I learned about them just last week after reading the Pitchfork review. Like most reviews, I sort of perused it for anything that might catch my eye, and when the surprising Tom Waits comparison in the first paragraph, I decided to check the CD out.

Man Man's Concert Setup Looks Pretty Awesome

It will be interesting to see how many of the reviews for Six Demon Bag do not mention Tom Waits in their review. (UPDATE: ALL OF THEM MENTION TOM WAITS) If any do, it has to be due to a conscious effort on their part to not use the same comparisons as other reviews. The first notes of album opener "Feathers" are an olde-tymey waltz, with minor key piano shrilly being pounded over them. The singer warbles with a gruff sounding voice about strangers that have come in the night to do some deeds, no doubt unspeakable. The real Waits-ian magic comes next, on Engwish Bwudd. The wailing of the singer seems a direct imitation of Frank's Wild Years era Waits songs "I'll Be Gone" or "Blow Wind." Nine years ago, you'd have heard the sound of me switching off my CD player. Right now though, I smile with Glee.

Despite my enjoyment of the music, i still wonder what to really make of an album that seemingly owes to much to the work of one man. If this were a written work, I feel it would be a borderline piece of Fan Fiction, written by a Tom Waits devotee. The band differentiates themself by playing several more uptempo songs than Waits typically does on an album. "Spider Cider," "Banana Ghost" and the pounding "Young Einstein on the Beach" are more fast paced than anything Waits typically releases. The band also features a notable back up vocalist section, which chime in on several songs with accompaniments and high pitched call and responses. As far as instrumentation goes, you've got your squeezebox, your marimba, your wierd gypsy horn and your out of tune piano, with some Man Man flava such as heavier drums and more distorted guitar thrown into the mix.

Once you get to the closing track, which cannot coincidentally be named "Ice Dogs," you feel like you've been on a bizarre journey through an unfinished Waits album that his children found some masters of in a shoebox and decided to finish with a few modern flourishes, like the Beatles "Free As A Bird" or the Smile reconstructions that circulated for decades before Brian Wilson officially released the album. Though it is difficult to quantify the worth of this album without considering its influences, it is safe to say that if you're a fan of mid-period Waits, who always wondered why the legions of disciples that the man should have inspired never came to fruition, you will thoroughly enjoy the album. Man Man certainly sounds like they are headed in the right direction, and I can't wait for them to schedule some West Coast tour dates.

Van Helsing Boombox MP3 Download
More Streaming Audio available on Man Man's Myspace site.

February 20, 2006

One Last Thing About Sunday's Show

It's Generic Sitcom Plot Device #28, bookended by #27, (simultaneous dates with two different women) and #29, (losing something valuable of your parents and trying to cover it up only to learn that objects aren't important, but telling the truth is.) Of course, i refer to the situation where a woman "can't go in there" ('there' equals the ball, reunion, party, etc) because somebody is wearing her exact same dress. Being firmly grounded in the real world, this has never struck me as being a big deal. It's entirely possible that I might not even notice were this situation to actually occur in real life. Which made what I did notice at the Casbah at last night's show by The Hold Steay all the more shocking to me.

During a song introduction, singer Craig Finn told an anecdote about the martyrdom of Saint Barbara, which evidently occurred after she converted to Christianity in the third century. Finn, in an effort to illustrate in a modern context how shocking this was at the time, compared it to getting a facial tattoo. I thought this was a good example. A deliberate attempt to distort your most noticable and unmissable feature is certainly a shocking act. That's why so few people do it. It's unnecessary, shocking and rebellious, (in a conformist sort of way.)

So I wonder what was going through the heads of the nine or ten people in the crowd at the show last night that were all wearing the same style glasses. The thick, black framed Buddy Holly/Rivers Cuomo style glasses. It was unmissable to me, and I wasn't even the one wearing them. If you spun in a circle, it would have been difficult to find an O'Clock where someone wasn't sporting them. Even two members of the band were!

Hold Steady Glasses
The Hold Steady See Eye To Eye on Facial Fashion

So just piecing this together from how I see it...There can't be any reason to get extra thick, ostentatious glasses, other than the look. They can't be lighter, or be more comfortable. The look can be the only reason. And if you want that particular look, you have to have some sort of inkling about what image that look conveys to the rest of the world: indie rock, ironic-nerdy, non-conformist hipster. You care so little about fashion that you're willing to deliberately look uncool as possible! But that makes you cool! UNTIL, you walk into a room and a ten other people are doing the same thing!

Unbelievable. You might think I am exaggerating, but I couldn't be the only one who noticed this last night. The thick framed glasses are still rare enough that I notice when I see someone wearing them. There were so many people last night that it was similar to what it would be like if you went to a concert and there were 10 different people there, of different genders and widely different ages who didn't know each other, all wearing these wigs:
rainbow wig

or these fake muscle shirts:
Fake Muscle Shirt

Very bizarre.

And Yet, It Would Be Unlike Me Not To Find Some Fault With Last Night's Show

I think that there ought to be a Rotten Tomatoes type site that aggregates ratings for just every day things. People could provide short reviews of a given topic, and you could then come up with a collective "rating" for what the public opinion is of something. It would be interesting to see the issues, that despite the atmosphere of devisiveness in the country caused by politics, religion, the anonymity of the internet, people still agree on. The first thing that comes to mind to me would be babies crying on an airplane. This would likely get a very high rating. It would not be unanimously despised though, because there are still people out there who can empathize with the difficulty of travelling with a baby. The fact that this horrible, onerous social situation would likely only get a 80-90% disapproval rating makes the following item even more shocking to me. The one item that I am sure that every person would agree on, no matter who you are, is that advertisements in movie theatres before the movie starts are stupid and irritating.

A quick internet search turns up several essays by like minded people: One, Two, Three. That took thirty seconds. Reading these sites, the main themes seem to be that you paid for the main attraction, that the main attraction is what you are there to see and that it is unfair and discourteous to subject you to something unrelated that you likely have no interest in. This post specifically objected to theatres that were unwilling to specify at what time the actual main attraction would start, so that those who wished to avoid the unwelcome ads could do so. Pretty much, there isn't a single person out there who likes the idea of paying for something you want to see, only to be inevitably trapped in situation you don't want to be in while you are subjected to entertainment you don't like.

Swearing At Motorits opened for The Hold Steady
Swearing At Motorists know the difficult role of Opening Band

Which brings me to the subject of opening bands. If I could change one thing about the process of live concert attendence, it would be to have some sort of schedule posted ahead of time. It wouldn't have to be set in stone, but it could go a little like this:

-Doors open at 8:30
-Local Amatuerish Opening Band will go on from around 9:30 to 10:00
-Tour Partner who is likely here because of label politics from 10:30 to 11:15
-The only band you're interested in and the only one you would conceivably pay money for will start at around 11:45

But instead we only get the ultra-vague first line. Now, I am all for supporting the arts. Up and coming bands need face time in front of a real audience, and it is true that occasionally you will catch a gem with an opening act. But for shows like last nights at the Casbah, it becomes less about enduring two additional average bands, and more about spending more time in a tiny hot room than it would take to rent, watch, and return The Deer Hunter. We didn't pay for these opening bands, we don't like the opening bands, and for the majority of us, we'd consider the experience to be far better with some of our favorite songs pumped through the house stereo at an enjoyable volume instead of these opening bands. Say what you will about the Coca-Cola movie trivia before movies, but at no point during it do you ever say to the people you came with, "Oh my god. This is really, really terrible. This is just horrible." With opening bands, there's unfortunately about a 40% chance of some variation of this being said.

Now the reason why my alternative scheduling will likely never happen is obvious. If you say the band is coming on at 11:45, I show up at 11:30. Last night i was at the Casbah at 9:30, and that is obviously two extra hours for me to be tempted by the infamous two dollar cans of PBR. But it is also time for me to sit and grow more and more exhausted and exaggerate more and more in my head how terrible the opening bands are. Fortunately, The Hold Steady performed the redemptive kind of Rock and Roll that made you forget about the two and a half hours you spent waiting for them.

The solution, as far as I can tell is an inadequate one. Try to call the venue and find out what their tentative schedule is. This is next to impossible, since the Casbah evidently only answers the phone for an hour, one day a week. They've also never responded to my emails inquiring about the schedule. Other times I've had more luck at other venues. If you can't get a time, you're going to have to play the guessing game, and unfortunately, it's always better to get there a bit early rather than mid-set. The only real way to get an advantage with your arrival time is to do some research into the opening bands. Read some reviews, see if there are any MP3s available, and adjust your arrival time accordingly. Just remember that there is always that small chance that you see an opening band that really speaks to you. And if you do arrive a few hours early, god forbid the Casbah be out of PBR.

The Hold Steady Almost Killed San Diego...

The Hold Steady's Craig Finn Performs at The Casbah

And San Diego loved every minute of it. As predicted in this very space on Friday, The Hold Steady are the perfect example of a band whose hype and promise are impossible to understand until you've been to a concert. Before one gets a chance to jam into a sold out crowd at a tiny venue like the Casbah, the band just sends you one mixed signal after another. There's the singer, who looks like he may be like 40 years old in the press photos. There's the sometimes inelegant flows of the lyrics, which sound at times very similar to stuff on Bruce Springsteen's first two albums where he didn't so much sing as sort of let the words spill out of his mouth. There's multiple uses of the word "Hoodrat." And of course, there's the hype. The reviews for The Hold Steady's second album "Separation Sunday" have been so universally full of acclaim, that they run the inevitable risk of backlash from those who don't "Get It" right off the bat Well consider me one who was in the former group but who has been entirely coverted by the power of rock and roll that The Hold Steady exhibited last night.

The band came onstage at 11:45 last night in front of a sold out crowd at the Casbah. Singer Craig Finn started the concert the same way that Separation Sunday starts, delivering the opening lines of "Hornets! Hornets!" on his own as the more enthusiastic members of the audience spoke the words along with or before him. It was no doubt a surprise to any hipster who had walked in the door because of the hype, to learn that this band apparently had actual devoted fans who knew the words to the songs and weren't ashamed to show it. But over the course of the next hour and a half, The Hold Steady showed that they really weren't anything like what you'd expect from a typical buzz band.

Craig Finn Gesticulates
Singer Craig Finn's emphatic gestures only add to the spectacle

Finn's main intention for the duraiton of the show seemed to be delivering the lyrics to the songs as emphatically as possible. He wore a guitar strapped around his neck, but spent most of every song pointing to emphasize the lyrics. Pointing at the audience, at the ceiling. This was the kind of concert where multiple members of the band on several different occasions pointed at the ceiling. There were many moments where the song slowly crested on a sustained guitar chord or organ swell, as Finn started to share the moral of the song (usually how rock and roll could save your life) right before the drums kicked in extra heavy to bring it on home. Such moments can only really truly be summed up by an extended point to the ceiling, or maybe the sky beyond. At one such point in time, the guitarist and bassist high fived in between pointing. All was well.

The Casbah's PA might not have been the best suited towards understanding every words that Finn had to say, and that is a shame with any band as lyrically driven as The Hold Steady. But the energy he conveyed with his lyrics was equally as backed up by the band, who seemed intent on driving every song into a glorious, frenzied state. On the album, it might just be the limitation of the average home stereo that holds it back. The live setting found every instrument playing not just loud, but strong. The star of the show is obviously Finn, but guitarist Tad Kubler is just as important to the experience of the band. His solos were so epic and so perfectly suited to the moments they appeared in, that you began to take them for granted. I would find myself air drumming along to the beat, when all of a sudden I'd realize that Kubler had been wailing along for 15 seconds in a virtuoso display of rock, effectively getting the audience so riled up that they didn't even realize how it had happened.

The band takes off after their LA show to tour Australia, and then is back to the studio to work on their new album. They played at least four songs off the album, all of which retained a similar sound and feel to their previous work. A band playing unreleased songs can often cause a bit of a dip in the energy of the show, but these were songs that you felt like you had heard a dozen times before as soon as the first lick was played. Even with subjects such as suicidal alcoholic poets, as one song was introduced as, didn't stop-a-the-rockin'.

The band ended the show the way they began, playing the last song on Separation Sunday, "How A Resurrection Really Feels." The song has a epic, end of record, credits rolling feel to it, which, like everything else Sunday night, came across even stronger in concert. After the song was done, the rest of the band exited the stage, leaving Finn and keyboard player Franz Nicolay to finish up on their own. Fittingly, the evening, which was itself a visceral testament to the power of rock and roll, ended with a song that tries to put those feelings into words. As Finn sang "Certain Songs," which describes how the songs of Billy Joel and Meatloaf get "scratched into your soul," one got the sense that The Hold Steady were pulling off the ultimate feat in rock: respecting and paying tribute to the pantheon while adding a new chapter to it themselves. As the song wound down, a female fan near the stage yelled out "Don't leave San Diego! Stay here forever!" An honorable sentiment, but I would instead advise this: Go out and play shows like last night's for as many god damn people as you can. Once you've made believers out of the rest of the world, then come back and rock again for the believers you just created in San Diego.

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