Monday, July 9, 2007

Offseason report: The Decemberists w/ the L.A. Philharmonic @ The Hollywood Bowl, 07-07-07

Saturday night's show was the Decemberists "Stop Making Sense" moment: A widely popular indie band using extra musicians (in this case, the L.A. Philharmonic) to make their big, sweeping songs even bigger. Frontman Colin Meloy even looked a bit like Talking Heads leader David Byrne in his cream suit with white sneakers — Onitsuka Tigers, to be exact.

Meloy even seemed to mimic Byrne's jog around the "Stop Making Sense" stage on "Life During Wartime" when he ran along the low semicircle wall that separates the first few rows from the rest of the audience during the "Wartime"-influenced "The Prefect Crime."

But the Decemberists didn't take full advantage of the moment. While the set always captivated, it was ultimately uneven. Some of the songs truly soared in their new form, while others came out too subtle considering the size of the L.A. Phil and the fact that the Decemberists got to the stage because of their sweeping style.

The restrained sound worked wonderfully on opener "The Crane Wife 1 and 2," "We Both Go Down Together" and the closer "I was Meant for the Stage." But the explosion that seemed destined to come on the intense "The Infanta" and "The Bagman's Gambit" never did.

The Philharmonic didn't really roar until "Odalisque," a song from the Decemberists first album, and it proved to be one of the best from the set along with the five-part, 18-minute-long "The Tain."

The unevenness certainly wasn't due to nerves. Meloy played with the confidence of a songwriter who was finally hearing his songs played the same way they sounded in his head. And maybe that's the best way to look at the show. If the Decemberists were given all the money, instruments and time in the world, this is how their songs would sound.

The Decemberists — Odalisque (MP3)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Offseason report: New Kite Flying Society MP3 on Baby Heisman

Kite Flying Society was one of the first San Diego bands I got into when I moved here, and they have been really nice to this blog. Dustin, the frontman, did an interview for the blog's debut, and he responds to my e-mails asking how the recording of the second album is going.

The band is keeping up the kindness by releasing an MP3 from their upcoming album, "The Aviary," to Baby Heisman and You Ain't No Picasso, a blog out of Kentucky that got hooked on Kite Flying's first album, "Where Is the Glow."

"Oh Amy!" is a tight, catchy pop song with standout harmonies. It has the same lazy-summer-day feeling and nautical references that made "Where is the Glow" so much fun, but it's also a step forward, fuller and more layered than their debut.

Kite Flying Society -- "Oh Amy!" (MP3)

Dustin says the band has been taking its time recording the album, no quick, throwaway takes, which is why the release of "The Aviary" keeps getting pushed back (September is the newest target). Another reason is the band is getting ready to play the Athens Popfest in Athena, Ga. They're playing the Whistlestop here in S.D. in two weeks, on the 13th, where a number of "Aviary" tracks are sure to be road tested.

If you haven't checked out "Where Is the Glow," even casual indie pop fans (and who isn't these days?) should give it a listen. Kite Flying Society isn't just a great San Diego band; they're a great band period.

Here's two "Where Is the Glow" tracks:

Kite Flying Society — "6000 Shipwrecks" (MP3)
Kite Flying Society — "Submarine Music" (MP3)


Baby Heisman interview with Dustin of Kite Flying Society

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I have some pretty big things coming up over the next month and a half, priorities that trump working on the blog, so I'm going to be taking the Baby Heisman into an "offseason" as a daily blog. I was hoping to keep things going for another week or so, but as you've probably noticed, posts have dwindled a bit in the past few days, and it's not for a lack of things TO post, just finding the time to do it.

I just don't want this blog to turn into some cutsey thing filled with quick-post things like silly YouTube clips, and that's what it'll become if I don't take the time to run it right.

I still plan to post, just not a regular, daily basis. There will still be show reviews, hopefully some MP3 playlists along the way. Think of them as voluntary offseason minicamps if, like me, you want to take the whole football analogy of this blog beyond your actual love of football.

I'll keep you guys posted on how the offseason goes.


Monday, June 11, 2007

The Pipettes @ the Casbah, 6-10-07

While most of the people at the Casbah last night would hesitate to admit it, The Pipettes have something in common with Jessica and Ashlee Simpson: they all sing songs, many of them sexy and coy, that were written for them by somebody else. And indie fans tend to be pretty wary of artists who don't write their own music like that. Plus, they've been accused of being imitators. Nobody thinks the Pipettes wear their polka dot dresses around the house any more than Ashlee Simpson is actually a punk rocker.

So why was the Casbah sold out Sunday night when most of the people there would rather watch the stars of American Idol cover Modest Mouse than go to a concert by one of the sisters Simpson? For one, the Pipettes seem like they can carry a tune and a conversation, too. But the big difference is that the Pipettes are imitating a musical style (60s girl groups), where as your American pop stars are trying to imitate past stars' public personas.

But you have to be in the mood for the campy throwback to enjoy the show. The Pipettes and their four-piece backing band are all solid singers and musicians, but an hour and a half of songs about boys, love and dancing grows a little thin after a while. Their singles got a good portion of the crowd moving, but overall it wasn't an overwhelming show. Nonetheless a pleasant way to end the weekend.

No Heisman photos, though. It just wouldn't have been gentlemanly to ask someone in that short of a skirt to strike that kind of pose.

Smoosh opened, and the teen sister duo is getting impressively better and better. They've always been a good band, not just good for their age, but their live set is showing real progress. Their keyboard-and-drum setup might not be varied enough yet to carry a headlining set, but songs like "La Pump" and "Find a Way" make their show worth checking out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Cover art for new Hot Chip album revealed

The other album out this week

"Someone to Drive You Home" by The Long Blondes has been out in the U.K. for a number of months and thus available for U.S. downloaders who know where to look. The other 98 percent of the population now has a chance to hear the album, as it got a stateside release Tuesday.

"Someone to Drive You Home" is an album of dense, Blondie-fueled rock. It's a little top-heavy, with the last few songs dragging a bit, but the best songs are good enough to warrant more than a handful of listens. The songs below are two of the best, but not necessarily examples of what the whole album sounds like.

The Long Blondes — Giddy Stratospheres (MP3)
The Long Blondes — Once and Never Again (MP3)

Cashing in: Wilco

This story has been all over a number of blogs, but in case you missed it...

Wilco licensed a B-side and a track from its latest album, "Sky Blue Sky," for Volkswagen, and in five days (Friday to Tuesday) there was a little Wilcogate going on. Wilco has a lot of indie cred as an artistically pure (or just artistically good) band, so the idea of their music in a car commercial made some people flinch.

The band released a statement on their Web site, explaining the ads by saying, in part: "This is a subject we've discussed internally many times over the years regarding movies, TV shows and even the odd advertisement. With the commercial radio airplay route getting more difficult for many bands (including Wilco); we see this as another way to get the music out there. As with most of the above (with the debatable exception of radio) the band gets paid for this. And we feel okay about VWs. Several of us even drive them."

By the way, have you ever noticed that the "V-Dub in da house" guy in those other Volkswagen commercials is the same guy who played Steve Buscemi's quiet partner in "Fargo?"

From a tan Sierra to a sweet V-Dub

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Hold Steady @ Canes 6-1-07

If you didn't go to Friday night's Hold Steady concert, you probably missed the last chance to see them before the frat boys get wise to them. Actually, it's surprising they haven't already.

Something certainly seemed to be changing Friday night. A Hold Steady crowd is always rowdy, but this one quickly turned into a full-on mosh pit, with people pushing each other as far and as hard as they could and even a couple of short-lived attempts at crowd surfing.

A mosh pit almost a decade after Limp Bizkit died for our sins. Absurd.

The band itself was far from absurd, performing a nearly flawless mix of songs from all three of their albums. They played the mainstays off their latest album, "Boys and Girls in America," bangers like "Hornets! Hornets!" and "Barfruit Blues," and ballads like "Citrus" and "Killer Parties."

They also piled on praise for the city, giving a shoutout to Swami Records and declaring that the cool people move to San Diego, not L.A. or San Fran. It wasn't just "it's great to be in [city name here]" lip service, as the band has randomly mentioned in interviews with papers in other cities how much they dig the San Diego crowd.

"You've played San Diego, like, three times..."

"Three? More like six!" keyboardist Franz Nicolay said, cutting me off before I could say "...on this record alone" while we were talking outside after the show. I told him that, considering how many bands skip San Diego or barely make it here, it meant a lot that they had come so often. His eyes lit up with genuine appreciation.

He also did one of the best Heisman poses yet, giving the stiff-arm to a member of opening band Illinois.

For more, better photos from the show than mine, check out Natalie's blog "It's Too Sunny Out Here." It's not strictly a music blog, but she writes about music a lot, and she takes great concert photos, like these here...

My City's a Sucker: Canes

I tried to get back into Canes after the Hold Steady show to try to talk to the rest of the band — I stepped out barely and briefly to find my friends – but the security guard said no dice. I offered to show my ID, reminded him that the show was over and there was no danger of the club hitting even half-capacity. He responded by pointing to the "NO RE-ENTRY" sign above the door with a choice digit that wasn't his index finger.

I thought that was an unnecessary move, but the rules are the rules, the sign was clearly posted, so I was letting it slide. But then two of my friends who watched what happened decided they would try to get back in. One by one, they succeeded.

So if you're ever at Canes and there's a skinny, squirrely guy working the door who looks like DJ Qualls from "Hustle and Flow," just point at someone behind the merch table and say you're with that guy from the band. That gets you back in.

Also, if you confront him about it afterward, he'll move away from the door and then your friends can sneak in behind him.

And it's a rock club; it doesn't need a men's room attendant.

Knocked Up

Besides being a great movie (more on that in a sec) "Knocked Up" uses music wonderfully, from pop to Loudon Wainwright III to maybe the best use of The Clash's "Police on My Back" ever in a movie.

Refreshingly, the movie doesn't call attention to the songs. There's no "I will now sell three copies of the new Beta Band album" or "The Shins will change your life" moments. The music just enhances the scene. Even when Paul Rudd's character wears a shirt with the cover of Tom Waits' "Rain Dogs," it fits his character and the situation perfectly.

The movie itself is a joy. If writer/director Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and the sadly short-lived TV shows "Undeclared" and "Freaks and Geeks") isn't the next Albert Brooks, he's certainly Brooks' best student. The movie is constantly hilarious, never settling for the easy joke or slapstick stunt — a true feat considering that pot is nearly a character in the movie. But Apatow also hits that off-kilter, real-life feeling of relationships that Brooks did so well.

At one point, after the main characters get pregnant and fail to make a relationship work, Seth Rogen's character calls his dad, nearly in tears, nearly begging him just to tell him what to do. It's a simple line, and there's comedy in it. But anyone in their mid-to-late 20s knows just how deep the truth in that one scene goes.

"Knocked Up" is a different kind of adult comedy: one that teens and college students will find funny, but they'll find a lot more in it once they're older.

P.S. ... DON'T put "knocked up" into a Google images search with the filter off while you're at work or around kids. Just FYI.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Hold Steady concert preview 1: Why are these guys such a big deal?

I was not an immediate convert to the church of The Hold Steady.

And it is a church. The texts are full of people we've never met and places we've never seen, but we know all about them nonetheless. Alcohol also plays an intricate, symbolic part.

The faithful, most of them evangelical, would try to convert me, suggesting psalms and trying to get me to come to a service. I tried but just didn't feel it. The actual music was good but, in part because I am a Springsteen fan, I bristled at the Boss comparisons. Sure, Bruce packed a lot of words into his lyrics, but they fit the beat. Craig Finn's lyrics were Bruce-worthy, but at times he spewed his words as though there was no beat at all.

Then came "Boys and Girls in America" last year. The music got even better, as did Finn's lyrics, which he even started fitting to the music. Not only did the album soar, it unlocked their two previous, messier records. All the parts came together, and, as the song goes, "then I got born again." I was a convert.

The Hold Steady — Stuck Between Stations (MP3)
The Hold Steady — Stevie Nix (MP3)

Now here I am, preaching to the unconverted, saying that I was once like you, but The Hold Steady really are that good.

Tonight's show at Canes got me thinking about what exactly makes The Hold Steady so exciting. Sure, there's big guitar riffs, and the songs are about drinking, girls and regret, but not in that Bon Jovi kind of way. That's a sure hit for my 20-something-guy set, plus plenty of others. But right now you're probably thinking of another of your favorite bands that fit the description.

The difference is that a Hold Steady concert makes us feel the way we did at our first concert.

And while many of us might be embarrassed to name that band, there's no embarrassment with these guys. Jump up and down, sing or yell along with the words, raise your tall boy can of beer in the air. It's all good. The band is having just as much fun on stage. That's what they mean when they talk about making their concerts a big party. It's all-inclusive and all-accepting, the kind of mantra so many other religions preach but rarely follow.


Hold Steady concert preview 2: For the fans, a drinking game

Fans of the Hold Steady know that it's pretty hard not to have a beer during their shows. So why not a drinking game? It looks like the Philly City Paper devised one, but it was back in 2005, before their most-recent album, and it was pretty basic. Drink each time the Mississippi River or an allusion to being resurrected is mentioned. Stuff like that.

I'm sure other people have done one, but here's the Baby Heisman Hold Steady Drinking Game. I tried to pick some less-obvious, more-concert-oriented options. I'm leaving this post photo-free so you can easily print it out and take it with you in case you forget a couple of rules after the first couple of beers.

Take a drink when:

* Craig Finn sticks his arms out to each side, like he's spreading his wings, to punctuate a line

* There's a keyboard solo

* A lyric mentions Ybor City or Massachusetts

* Craig steps away from the mic toward to the crowd and repeats the lyrics

* Craig takes a drink

Enjoy your tall boys, kids. And for god sake's, just take a cab. Here, click here and get the number of one NOW.

Notes for the weekend

For me, this weekend is all about the Hold Steady tonight, but there's a couple of other things I wanted to mention.

The CD release show by L.A. indie pop band Great Northern tonight at the Beauty Bar is being hosted by two of San Diego's best bloggers: Rosey from S.D. Dialed in and Lyn from Chickrawker.

Info about the show and some MP3s

Great Northern on MySpace

If Hold Steady weren't playing, I'd absolutely be at this show because the band is really good, and it's doubly cool for S.D. music and S.D. music blogs that Rosey and Lyn are attached to the show. Both blogs are insightful, well-written and serve a niche. S.D. Dialed In has the most comprehensive gig listings in town and Chickrawker is a one-stop shop for the songs that are getting added, dropped and played from modern rock radio. Both tasks are time-consuming and done with passion, an that's ON TOP of the great general music blogging they do. Links to both sites are in the Hometown Heroes list on the right of the blog.

Ladies, my crew is at the next gig you sponsor. Promise.

Two great San Diego bands, Kite Flying Society and Emery Byrd, are playing the El Cajon Concerts on the Green series tonight, too. It's from 6-8 p.m., the perfect time for an outdoor show and worth the drive. Plus, it's early, so you can catch Hold Steady or Great Northern afterward.

El Cajon Concerts on the Green Web site

Past Baby Heisman interview with Dustin of Kite Flying Society

Emery Byrd on MySpace

If you ARE going to see Hold Steady, both opening bands are worth a listen. The first one, Blitzen Trapper, is a kind of indie/folk/country mashup of styles from Portland with a new album out in a couple of months. They recently caused some blog buzz with a cover of Heart's "Crazy On You" for a compilation CD. A good friend thinks they'll be the indie breakout band of the summer. I'm not so sure, but here's a chance to find out.

Blitzen Trapper on MySpace

The second band is Illinois, which played the Casbah a couple months back and is almost universally being called a good band on record and an effing great band live. Don't miss out.

Illinois on MySpace

And, as Rosey says, people complain there isn't anything to do in San Diego. Night like this, that's impossible to argue.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Girls Rock"

While in Seattle over the weekend, I saw a really good documentary about the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls called "Girls Rock." I knew the camp existed because of my fanaticism for Sleater-Kinney — Carrie Brownstein has been involved with it from the beginning — but I knew little else.

At the week-long camp, girls form bands, get instruction from musician volunteers and special guests like Brownstein and Beth Ditto of the Gossip and write an original song, which they perform at a showcase in Portland at the end of the week.

The documentary follows girls ranging in age from 7 to 17 as they go through the universal bonding and strife of being in a band.

The documentary, made by two first-time filmmakers, superbly shows how being in a band frequently mimics the drama of being an adolescent, let alone being a girl, and how being in a band also helps deal with those issues. The movie also reminds music fans that, for all the cool that a band exudes, it starts with someone standing up and suggesting a lyric or a riff, and that takes more courage than most people have. Seeing these girls, many of whom had little musical background, learn an instrument or suggest lyrics for the first time in a group of strangers was powerful.

The movie doesn't beat you over the head with these points. Like a good documentary, it follows a handful of the girls through the week and lets the themes rise up as a result. There are some montages in between showing statistics about girls and growing up that don't really work. While we may not know the specific number of girls who are pressured to diet or how much sex is on MTV, we know the numbers are big and where that influence fits into the importance of something like the rock camp.

The movie, which played at the Seattle International Film Festival, just got a distributor and will be shown in wider release this fall. No dates or cities have been named yet, but the movie is a joy for casual music fans and a must-see for music junkies.

The camp itself is a nonprofit group that doesn't turn away any camper if she can't pay the registration fee. It raises money from ticket sales at the showcase, and there's even a Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Women, a fundraiser that gives grown-ups the same experience.

For more info:

Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls homepage

"Girls Rock" documentary homepage

"Girls Rock" on Myspace, with songs from some of the bands

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Pornographers update

The New Pornographers show on Sept. 18 will be at the House of Blues. Looks like the whole gang will be there, including Neko Case and even Dan Bejar, who actually toured with them for the first time after the release of their last, fantastic, album, "Twin Cinema." Tix on sale June 16.

Most indie fans know that Neko is also an alt-country soloist and that Bejar has his own solo career as Destroyer. Many even know about frontman Carl Newman's first power-pop group, Zupano. The music site Culture Bully traces the Pornographers' roots even deeper.

Also, the band posted the first song from its upcoming album, "Challengers."

The New Pornographers — My Rights Versus Yours (MP3)

The album is out in August and this appears to be the album artwork. You can't really see it in the photo, but "NEKO" is tattooed on the guy's knuckles, which is a cool touch, but otherwise this cover is a mess. I'm a fan of their past DIY-style, understated album covers, so maybe it's just not my thing, but we DEFINITELY don't need to add another silly 70s mustache to the indie-rock lexicon.