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.

A Sasquatch showdown, just for fun

A festival named Sasquatch was a fitting place to see a mythological musical rarity: the double-neck guitar.

Both The Hold Steady's Tad Kubler and Viva Voce's Anita Robinson rocked a "guitar that's, like, two guitars," as Otto from the Simpsons so aptly put it, and it sparked a debate in our group over who rocked the double-neck the hardest.

Like the recent Oscar de la Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather fight, this bout would go the distance and be decided on the cards. The Hold Steady was on the mainstage and Viva Voce was on one of the sidestages, so Anita was fighting in a higher weight class. But this is a woman who proudly, melodically declares "we do not fuck around." So that's a draw.

Tad had on a Mastodon band T-shirt, which is a solid musical reference, but it looked no better or worse than the hundreds of band T-shirts worn over the weekend. Anita rocked a cowboy hat with style, something many concert-goers tried and failed to do. Point for Viva Voce.

But the double-neck guitar is all about rock 'n' roll excess, and Tad took that to new heights by having one neck be a 12-string, while both of Antia's were standard 6-strings.

Advantage Hold Steady, by a 4-3 judges' decision.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Notes from Sasquatch

I spent a long weekend in Seattle and spent Saturday at the first day of the Sasquatch music festival. The trip was a last hurrah with one of my best friends before she moves to the Midwest for grad school, so I wasn't really in blogger mode. Besides, if people are interested enough in the "experience" of a certain festival to want to read about it, they're probably interested enough to go to it.

But I did come back with some general music notes:

If you're going to Lollapalooza or the Austin City Limits fest later this summer, do not miss Ghostland Observatory. The Austin duo absolutely tore up one of the Sasquatch side stages. Their set was part LCD Soundsystem and part Iggy Pop, which — you're exactly right — is not a comparison to be taken lightly. But as Thomas Turner and his sky-blue cape worked the keys and synth, frontman Aaron Behrens and his two chest-long braids commanded the stage with an energy worthy of the punk icon.

I've kind of slept on the band. I listened to part of their "Paparazzi Lightning" album last year and liked it, didn't love it, and never really got back to it. On Saturday, the live versions of those songs destroyed the recorded ones. Ghostland came through San Diego back in February, and right now they just have a few festival dates planned. So if you make a festival pilgrimage, seek them out.

Ghostland Observatory — Sad Sad City (MP3)
Ghostland Observatory on MySpace

It might not seem noteworthy to say that all five of us in my group agreed that the Arcade Fire put on the day's best set. But considering that it was a truncated repeat of the San Diego show just a month ago — same opening movie with the female evangelist, same video screens on stage, same band interaction — and considering we were packed into a festival crowd a hundred feet away from the stage, I expected a little bit of a drop-off. No way. From the first haunting, washed-out notes of "Black Mirror" to the finale of "Power Out," "Rebellion (Lies)" and "Wake Up," the band captivated as usual.

Every time The Arcade Fire kicked into the "Ohhh, ohhh, ohhh" chorus of "Wake Up," the congregation overpowered the sound of the choir, just another religious moment from a band that is a must-see regardless of the situation.

The Arcade Fire — Wake Up (MP3)

On record, Portland band The Blow is singer Khaela Maricich and beat maker Jona Bechtolt; on stage, it's usually just Maricich and the recorded beats, as Bechtolt works on his solo project, YACHT.

But Maricich has a solo project of her own: performance artist, and she incorporates that into her set. She tells the stories behind the songs before them, during their musical interludes and after them. It's not a concert in the traditional sense, but it was almost better, especially these days when some artists barely utter a thank-you during a show.

The Blow — Parentheses (MP3)

Finally, seeing a show at The Gorge amphitheater should be on any music fan's to-do list. I had heard how beautiful the venue was and had seen photos, but photos only give a sense of it. (Click on the photos to see them full-size)

The wide views from the hill are breathtaking, but so is the "view" from down by the mainstage. Because you're so far down into the Columbia River Gorge, you can barely see any land from behind the stage. It makes you feel like you're up in the sky among the clouds.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Back after the weekend

see ya

Post-hype album reviews

The pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman once suggested waiting something like a year to listen to an album, supposedly to avoid any hype and hear it in its "purest" form possible. That's just another shock-value statement from a writer who has to keep shocking to keep a job. (He once suggested that Muhammad Ali invented rap, getting him a piece of ESPN's coverage of an Ali anniversary.) Waiting kills half the point of music: the fun and anticipation of a new album. If my long-distance girlfriend is coming back to town, I'm not going to wait a week after she gets back to see her; I'm going to meet her at the airport.

But I'm also not going to have her set up a Webcam so I can follow every moment of her journey home. It's true that many blogs hype music so hard that bandwagons turn into backlashes before most people even hear the music. And try as we might, hype influences what we think of new music. Or the best songs from a leaked album get posted, leading to letdown when the rest of the album doesn't match up.

With that in mind, here are some post-hype reviews of some of the most buzzed-about albums of the spring season so far, with a playlist of tracks from the albums. I tried to pick tracks to give a sense of the album, not just the best songs on it:

Feist — The Reminder: Reviews ranged from "watching a pitcher throw a no-hitter" to "could make even Dick Cheney weep." It's hard to blame them. For fans of Feist's breakout "Let It Die," just hearing her fragile voice sing new songs is enough to swoon, like seeing a crush who's screwed you over more than once wearing a new dress; you can't help it. But, unlike the New York Times says, this isn't the album that will make her a mainstream star. It starts extremely strong but falters 3 minutes and 55 seconds into track four, "The Park," when Feist pushes her voice one notch too far. It ends strongly, though, with "1234" sounding much more important without its cutsey, Gap-commercial-style dance video. Lines like "1,2,3,4 / tell me that you love me more / sleepless, long nights / that was what my youth was for" are chilling close to Joni Mitchell-worthy.

Scouting report: A solid effort from a talented singer, but not necessarily a step forward, other than that most of the songs are hers and not covers. If you've only HEARD OF her, best to start with "Let It Die" and fall in love with her there.

Lil' Wayne — Da Drought 3: Best rapper alive or only rapper alive? Lil' Wayne is probably both. Everything that's compelling and confounding about this two-disc, free-to-download mixtape only grows with multiple listens. You keep finding nuggets of witty wordplay, like "Am I crazy for being Wayne? / Or is Wayne just crazy? / I've been around, I'm still around / like the Geico cavemen (he makes crazy rhyme with cavemen). But it also frustrating that the rapper who professes to having "money on my mind" won't get into a studio with a top producer and turn these lines into a platinum, career-changing (and maybe rap-game-changing) album.

Scouting report: Worth downloading, and not just because it's free. There's plenty of free music that still isn't worth downloading. It's 5-8 tracks too long, but you can cut out the ones you don't like and make your own mix.

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky: Anyone who wants to see Pitchfork's sway over Indie Nation only has to look at the review of "Sky Blue Sky," which called the album "dad-rock." Suddenly, every blog review and comment on a review was framed by that. Once all of that dissolves away, "Sky Blue Sky" is one of the best albums of the season. It's a win-win situation. If you want to look at it through the lens of their past work, the alt-country "Summerteeth," seminal "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and jam-band freak out "A ghost is Born," then this is a natural progression from a band that refuses to be stagnant. If you want to look at it on its own, "Sky Blue Sky" mixes a number of styles to be a welcoming, compelling modern rock album.

Scouting report: Songs! Unlike their last album of 12-minute guitar-picking solos, there are actual songs on this album!

Panda Bear - Person Pitch: This has been the most-hyped album of the year, and it absolutely shouldn't be hyped. "Person Pitch" is seven sprawling songs, two cracking 12 minutes, that one Baby Heisman reader aptly described as "The Beach Boys underwater." It's not the masterpiece that some blogs have made it out to be, not the best album of the year as some are already calling it. It's a beautiful record that takes time to feel. Some of the songs don't kick in for a couple of minutes. When they do, the hooks are brilliant and the lyrics are worth dissecting.

Scouting report: Worth buying and worth getting to know.

The National — Boxer: The term "slow burner," meaning an album that takes time to love and reveals more with each listen, entered the hipster lexicon thanks to The National's last album, "Alligator." By the time most people realized its brooding brilliance, the band had already passed through their town, building up even more anticipation for the follow-up. "Boxer" burns even slower, without any of the loud, instantly catching tracks like "Alligator's" "Abel" or "Mr. November." But it really does reveal more with each listen, which is amazing considering how simple and straightforward the songs are on first blush. It's not a like a noise-pop album or something like "Person Pitch," where you know something's there and you just have to find it. These songs seem pretty obvious, and when those underlying layers hit you, it's powerful.

Scouting report: If you're just getting into them, better to start with "Alligator." But if you even remotely like it or their earlier albums, this is a winner.

Elliott Smith — New Moon: Who cares if it counts! The collection of Elliott's unreleased music from his best period is the best album of the season so far. At first this two-disc set merely reinforced the beauty of the songs that made it onto "Elliott Smith" and "Either/Or." But after a few listens, the songs come into their own.

Scouting report: Definitely not an album just for the deep fans. It's strong enough to even make an un-initiated listener fall in love with him, and that's something I didn't think on the first couple of listens.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Return of the New Pornographers? (Plus the Pipettes and Smoosh)

The Casbah's Web site, under the "shows outside the Casbah" section, says The New Pornographers will return to San Diego on Sept. 18. It lists all the members, including Neko Case and recluse sometimes-member/cult hero Dan Bejar and says tix go on sale June 16.

But it doesn't say where the thing will be held. It feels like it will be at the Belly Up in Solana Beach based on the price and the fact that the Pornos played there on their last two tours.

The band's last album, "Twin Cinema," remains my favorite record of 2005 (suck it, Sufjan Stevens). It's highly recommended if you're into power pop at all. Their new album is set to come out later this summer.

The New Pornographers -- The Bleeding Heart Show (MP3)

Also ... the show by girl-group throwback The Pipettes on June 10 is now officially the 94.9 Indie Jam afterparty, and Smoosh -- two tween sisters from the Northwest who aren't just good for tweens but just plain good -- has been added to the bill.

Smoosh — Find a Way (MP3)

The Pipettes -- We Are the Pipettes (MP3)

The Pipettes -- Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me (MP3)

Past Baby Heisman post on The Pipettes

Past Baby Heisman Post on the 94.9 Indie Jam

Warren Zevon appreciation day

Perhaps no other musician has seen his songs made famous by other people more than Warren Zevon. Maybe Dylan, but he doesn't quite count because he has plenty of quintessential songs on his own.

Zevon came into his own in the 70s, writing his own music and songs for Jackson Browne and Linda Rondstat, who championed Zevon's work and recorded versions of a number of his songs.

Not as famous as Springsteen, cool as Tom Waits or purely vocally talented as Nick Drake, Zevon has always been a bit of an also-ran in the indie world among the idolized 1970s troubadours, which is a shame. Zevon's songs have an edge and bone-dry wit that's much deeper than the "Aw-ooooooh" of "Werewolves of London" and hard to find today. Plus the music itself doesn't sound dated at all.

Music fans of all ages can catch up with Zevon, as three of his albums have been remastered this month and his widow has written an (authorized) biography ("Put in the bad stuff," he told her). The albums include "Excitable Boy," which almost feels like a greatest hits album with tracks like "Werewolves," "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," and "Accidentally Like a Martyr."

Zevon was never as popular as his contemporaries, but he partied like a rock star, once saying he got to live Jim Morrison's life, just for longer. When he contracted terminal cancer, he decided to go out like a rock star. He recorded a farewell album, "My Ride Is Here," but started beating back the cancer, so he took the time, brought in big guests like Browne and Springsteen and recording "The Wind," which stands as one of his finest.

In between, he spoke with chilling frankness to David Letterman, another of his champions who dedicated the entire show to Zevon. They talked about facing death with no regets, and Zevon performed three songs, including "Roland."

(On the episode of Conan afterward, Sleater-Kinney made their network TV debut; suffice to say I didn't sleep much that night.)

Zevon probably won't ever have the status he deserves, but it's under-appreciated artists who create new generations of music junkies ... and musicians, and Zevon's influence can be heard all over music today.

Happy Warren Zevon Appreciation Day.

My City's NOT a Sucker: Peter, Bjorn & John

Indie sensation turned alt-radio sensation Peter, Bjorn & John hadn't stopped in San Diego in the six months since their latest album started getting all its buzz. The band was not touring extensively, but they had played L.A. and Coachella without popping in to say hi.

No more, as the Young Folks'ers will play the House of Blues on Aug. 1 (they may not tour a ton, but, when they do, they plan ahead), a day after playing in L.A.

Peter, Bjorn & John — Young Folks (MP3)
Peter, Bjorn & John — Amsterdam (MP3)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jesus walks with M.I.A.

It was only a matter of time before this happened...

"Bird Flu," suspected to be on M.I.A.'s sophomore album, "Kala," is a certified banger. It's on the Brit/Sri Lanka rapper's Myspace page and, of course, ripped onto a number of blogs, including this one. But it's not been officially released in any way.

That hasn't stopped a remix of the unreleased song — truly an "only in the music blog world" phenomenon. That said, the track uses the chain-gang chant of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" to do exactly what a remix should: Make the song just as good, just in a different way.

Highly recommended:

Bonus track: a silky smooth mash-up using T.I.'s 2006 instant classic "What You Know." Takes the song from something you play while cruising in your Land Rover to something you play while lounging on the porch on a hot day.

Rip City!

A lot's changed since E-40 rhymed "fat wallets" with "Rasheed Wallace." E-40 graduated up from only being known in hip-hop circles and dorm rooms, and 'Sheed got traded from the Blazers to the Pistons, won rings, didn't have to be the go-to guy anymore and mellowed out into the NBA's cranky-but-loveable uncle instead of its drunk, abusive dad.

But absolutely everything changed last night when the Blazers won the first pick in the lottery. As the only pro sports team in Oregon, the Blazers are literally an emotionally the Padres and Chargers combined, and for the die-hards who stuck with the team, this is as exciting as watching LT break free for an 80-yard touchdown or Jake Peavy throw 20 strikeouts. A Tony Gwynn? We got that, too.

Oden or Durant? Is this good for the league? Will the Blazers make the playoffs next year? I'm leaving the opining to the skilled Oregonian writers, basketball blogs and ESPN (the Fox News Channel of sports). But I will just say this...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Let's play the feud

About five years ago, 50 Cent pretty much ended rapper Ja Rule's career with a couple of blistering dis tracks in one of the better rap feuds since Biggie and 2Pac got shot and things got heavy. 50 really played up the idea that Ja wasn't a hardcore rapper, and some of it was exaggerated, but a dude can only make so many "Grease"-inspired music videos before he brings it on himself. Next thing you know, everyone from Busta Rhymes to Fat Joe were piling it on and — poof — Ja Rule disappeared.

But as 50 continuously slides into Ja territory with tracks using increasingly absurd metaphors for his prowess with the ladies, it was only a matter of time before somebody decided to take on 50 with his own weapons.

Over the past few weeks, Cam'ron (of "60 Minutes" no-snitching fame) and 50 have been going at each other, and it's been a cheesy soap opera at best. In the latest installment, Cam responded to 50's insinuation that he was in hiding by hanging out in socks, boxer shorts and a wife beater by his pool and saying he's on vacation.

50's response: “My whirlpool is bigger than Cam’s swimming pool.
And he shouldn’t be in front of no camera with daisy dukes on.”

The video came out last week, but it was 50's response Friday that realy sparked this post. Those are probably the two best lines 50 has written since "Get Rich or Die Tryin'"

There might not be two rappers out there now who need more motivation than Cam and, certainly, 50. The question is, do they even want the motivation? Cam'ron seems happy painting himself as the crazy street underdog, and 50 seems fine cashing in on quasi-rap pop songs about his magic stick, candy shop and roller coaster. Those are their angles, the money-making niches they've carved out for each other.

But here's to hoping this will push them both to write more of the blistering hip-hop that made them stars in the first place.

At long last, new National

May Gray continues its grip on San Diego, and the timing couldn't be more perfect with the new album from The National out today. Some albums just sound better on a cloudy or rainy day, and in San Diego, you have to take advantage of those days when they come.

The National play the Casbah on Monday, June 25.

Not about music, but...

... But I'm still geeking out over the hilarious clips from the Human Giant marathon.

There was the magic of Fabrice Fabrice, the show's craft services guy, who "provides all the snacks and tiny waters," a catchphrase I will have everyone in my office saying by week's end...

And the craziness of John Krasinski from the Office holding just about every hip comic hostage...

And the awesome disgust of when Paul's "uncles" make turkey cocktails at 12:30 a.m.

Plus the National playing at 2 a.m., the best time in the world to hear the National.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Coconut Records CD for presale

The debut disc from actor/ex-Phantom Planeteer Jason Schwartzman's new project, Coconut Records, is available for presale on the Coconut Records Web site. The album has been available for download only on all the usual sites, but he is also doing a limited run of CDs.

Schwartzman says pre-orders should ship around the 6th, that the album will only be sold through the site and that each one comes with a "one of a kind item from Jason," which sounds kinda creepy.

The album, "Nighttiming," includes the melodic, melancholy song "West Coast." Both the single and its video -- actually an old video of a skateboarder taking over a museum -- are highly recommended.

Coconut Records site

Stream "West Coast"

Previous Baby Heisman post on Coconut Records

No M.I.A. in the U.S.A.

M.I.A. was set to play this weekend's Sasquatch festival in Washington, but the fest has announced that "unexpected delays" in the processing of the Sri Lanka/London MC's artist visa has forced her to cancel.

M.I.A.'s set on the first day of the two-day festival was likely to be one of the more compelling, with her new album allegedly coming out this summer. She has no other shows planned until Lollapalooza in August.

M.I.A. -- Bird Flu (MP3)

Obviously, Arcade Fire, Bjork, Neko Case, Hold Steady, Grizzly Bear, The Blow and Viva Voce will pick up the slack Saturday, but M.I.A. was going to add variety to the mostly straight-up indie rock bill

My City's NOT a Sucker: The Airlines

The Airlines are one of San Diego's most promising and most elusive bands. CityBeat gave them a big bump when they played the magazine's Local Music Issue party, but they haven't exactly been playing every weekend since then. Their next gig isn't until the end of NEXT month. Considering the strength of their Cars/Britpop-influenced songs, which easily get stuck in your head in that good kind of way, the lack of shows must be by choice.

The band's EP is now for sale on their Myspace page, and it's a highly recommended pickup.

The Airlines MySpace page

Internet Radio

The planned increase in royalties for Web radio broadcasts has been a surprisingly under-reported story, especially considering how ubiquitous Web radio stations from Pandora and to the Web stream of a local radio station have become in the American office. Mentions of the change have been folded into other stories, but there have been few major articles on it outside of the Wall Street Journal and the blog Idolator, which has been linking to the WSJ stories and writing its own posts — just one part of its strong coverage of how the music industry affects indie fans.

In short, the royalty fee for playing a song over the Internet is about to skyrocket, and the change will bankrupt most Web broadcasters. The repercussions of this are obvious and the motivations for it confounding. Another avenue for new music being squashed.

A bill to counteract the fees has been introduced in the Senate. For more info, go to...

Cool again

One of the coolest things this weekend actually happened on MTV.

The three comedians of the MTV show "Human Giant" spent 24 hours straight on MTV and MTV2, the idea being that if the "Human Giant" MTV site got 1 million hits, the show would be renewed for a second season.

The "telethon" to save the show turned into a 24-hour party of hip comics and hip bands that was more enjoyable than the show itself.

Before MTV became a cash cow, people tuned in because they weren't sure what they'd see. For one day, the network was that way again. Flip over in the afternoon and see "Daily Show" correspondent Rob Riggle playing an MTV security guard trying to get air time, or see John Krasinski from "The Office stop buy. Tune in at 2 a.m. to see The National play songs off their new album (WHICH IS OUT TOMORROW).

The idea that MTV was ever a no-rules network of rock 'n' roll anarchy is just nostalgia, but there was a time when there were fewer rules and more room for unpredictability. It was nice to see that again, if only for 24 hours.

Th site easily surpassed 1 million hits, so the show goes on. Here's the site, with a number of great video clips.

Human Giant site

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Catching up

Baby Heisman HQ is getting pretty cluttered, and the to-do list for the week just kicked onto a second page, so no new posts until Monday, unless something buck silly happens.

Besides, there's been a lot of longer posts over the past week, so while the Baby Heisman gets caught up, catch up on the Baby Heisman:

An interview with the mastermind of the Hollywood Bowl's concerts that have paired the likes of Air, Belle & Sebastian and The Decemberists with the L.A. Philharmonic

Portland act YACHT screwing with a hometown interviewer in an article that is still hilarious on the third read.

Recaps of great shows last weekend from S.D. bands Vinyl Radio and The Modlins

An interview with S.D. band The Prayers about their current tour in the U.K., risking the cash to go, and their "deathly serious" plans for the band

The latest edition of "My City Is a Sucker," calling out Girl Talk to come play here for once.

Plus news about The National, The Arcade Fire, Pink Martini, and Elliott Smith

That also doesn't mean there's a lack of stuff going in during the next few days. In fact, there's a sure-fire pick most nights:
Thursday: (Bad-ass) music trivia night at the Ken Club. More info here.
Friday: Patrick Wolf at the Beauty Bar. ... Patrick Wolf — The Magic Position (MP3) (Highly Recommended)
Saturday: House party with Grand Ole Party and The Muslims (and costumes). More info here.

See you Monday.

My City's a Sucker: Girl Talk

It's been almost a year since mash-up king Girl Talk (Real name: Greg Gillis, which somehow makes him even cooler) absolutely blew up, and he still hasn't brought his reportedly phenomenal freak out dance party of a live show to San Diego. And no, of course Coachella doesn't count.

The guy gets cut a little slack because he was still working a day job, getting shows in on vacations and weekends. But he's announced he's quitting to focus on Girl Talk, so that's no longer and excuse.

But his S.D. streak could be safe well into fall, with Girl Talk announcing overseas and U.S. dates through the end of September. But there's big gaps in the schedule that provide some hope: Almost 10 days between the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle (a city he's already played) and the Virgin Festival in Baltimore, then 20 days between a show with Clipse (!) in Portland (another city he's already played) in early September and a show with Dan Deacon in L.A. on Sept. 28.

If Street Scene actually happens Sept. 22-23, which still appears to be anyone's guess, the timing wouldn't be perfect, but certainly doable. Although, how amazing would it be to get him into the Casbah (or the Beauty Bar, because beggars can't be choosers)?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Elliot Smith photo book

Photo of concert poster in my bedroom not included.

It's completely overcast here in San Diego. San Diegans call it May Gray, not to be confused with the more severe June Gloom. Only in San Diego would less-than-perfect weather get an alliterate insult of a nickname.

But it is perfect weather for this news:

Billboard reports that a book of photos of Elliott Smith, taken by rock photog Autumn De Wilde, is tentatively set for a November release. De Wilde shot the cover of Elliott's last "living" album, "Figure 8." The book will also have handwritten lyrics and interviews with Smith's sister Ashley Welch and friends such as Ben Gibbard and Sam Coomes of Quasi and Smith's old band, Heatmiser.

The book will also include a five-song CD featuring live acoustic tracks recorded by Elliott at the Largo club in L.A., including "Angeles," "Between the Bars," and "Clementine."

Meanwhile, the fantastic collection of unreleased Elliott songs , "New Moon," came outlast week. While off par with a proper Elliott album, the double-disc is far from a cash-in or an offering to he die-hards only. It reinforces how brilliant he and the songs that made it onto "Either/Or" and "Elliott Smith" were.

Elliott Smith — Fear City (From "New Moon") (MP3)

And, as always, Elliott, Jesus Christ we miss you.

UPDATE: has a brief interview with De Wilde about how the book project came together. Go to it here.

Modlins T-shirt contest

Get your design for the Street Scene 2007 logo done yet? Only two days to go. If so, San Diego indie poppers The Modlins are holding a contest to design their T-shirts, with a possible first prize being a date with a Modlin. Or you might just get a handshake, they say. But, obviously, that's on top of the gratification of seeing your design on the shirts.

Here's the deal, from the band:

You get to design the most excellent T-shirt you have ever designed (preferably one that says The Modlins somewhere on it). Then you get to send the design to, or just write an e-mail describing how awesome your idea is, if you don't want to do some sort of actual drawing type of design.

For more info, the Modlins Myspace page
Baby Heisman review of Saturday's Modlins show

The other album out today

To bastardize an Ol Dirty Bastard line: Got burned once, but it was only Pink Martini.

Portland quasi-orchestral band Pink Martini was a favorite in high school and early college. Their jazzy, lounge-ey music was great for that age where you throw cocktail parties so you have a reason to wear sharp suits and cute dresses.

But months without a sophomore album turned into years (seven of them, eventually), and at every show the band promised the follow-up was coming. "Just a little more time," they would repeat from the stage like a cheating lover begging for just ONE MORE chance. Then they'd play a new, exciting song to make it up to us, but eventually I got wise and broke up with them.

About two years after that, the second album came, which was kind of like hearing that the cheating ex had gotten married. There was a little curiosity to see what they were like now, a little worry that they were going to hurt someone else; mostly, though, I had moved on.

But can cheaters change their ways? Only two-and-a-half years after their second album, a break that isn't totally unheard of these days, their third one is out today. It's called "Hey Eugene," but its title track was a crowd favorite at concerts back when George W. Bush was a candidate for president.

So if you want to have some fun, fool around, check out the album or go to their shows at Humphrey's Sept. 17-18, I'm not going to stop you. What I've heard of the album is good and they always put on an amazing show perfectly fit for the bayside venue.

Just remember that it's only a fling, a one-night stand. If you commit, you'll get burned.

Judgment Day redux

Six months later, and that photo is still creepy.

Since Judgment Day came and went with the release of "Neon Bible," Arcade Fire posts have tapered off. But frontman Win Butler did an interview with Pitchfork, and I wanted to give a heads-up for the benefit of the healthy people who don't read Pfork twice, three times a day.

Nothing TOO earth-shattering in the Q&A, mostly just breaking down all the symbolism on "Neon Bible," which you own, right?

Pitchfork interview with The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire — Intervention (MP3)
The Arcade Fire — Antichrist Television Blues (MP3)

Monday, May 14, 2007

New National album streaming NOW


With a week and a day until the release of the most anticipated album of the spring season, The National is streaming its new album, The Boxer, on it's Myspace page. This is another one that I've avoided so I can hear it all at once when it comes out, just to bottle up the magic, but if you just can't wait, go to...

Stream "The Boxer" on The National's Myspace

San Diegans got a taste of the songs during the band's last stop, and they're certainly going to get more when they play The Casbah June 25, which is going to be an absolute don't-miss show.

Abel, come on? Oh, he's comin'.

Crossing the pond with The Prayers

When many San Diego bands are, at the most, planning tours that poke out of Southern California, The Prayers are leaving tomorrow for a week-long British tour with London band Metro Riots. They'll play shows all nine days, including at a festival of about 60 bands called The Great Escape.

The Prayers have luck — a booking agent for a series of bars in England liked their demo and offered them the tour — have friends in the U.K. and have and a sound that would seem a solid fit for British audiences. But that only gets a band so far.

In an interview with Baby Heisman, frontman Brandon Welchez discusses The Prayers' decision to spend the money to fly over there and play the shows, the touring-on-the-cheap lessons he learned when his previous band, The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, played the U.K., and how "deathly serious" the Prayers are.

Baby Heisman: How did your demo get noticed? Did you send it to the booker?

Brandon Welchez: No, I’m not sure how he noticed it. He has connections with a woman who does – she’s not our manager but she does managerial-type stuff for us – and he knows her somehow. ... I don't really know much more than that. He heard our demo, liked it and offered us the tour. After that he saw us at South By Southwest and I guess he liked us live, too, because he didn't pull the tour.

BH: Was it a booker who is in the U.K.?

B: Yeah. He books for this string of venues called The Barfly. And they sponsor that festival (The Great Escape), and that’s how we got the whole thing hooked up.

BH: The festival looks a bit like a British South By Southwest. Had you heard of it before, and what have you found out about it?

B: It’s the second year. It would be a bit like South By Southwest; it’s smaller, though. It’s only 15 venues, where South By Southwest is 60 or so. And that’s really all I know. I was kind of impressed by some of the people who played it last year.

BH: When you were in The Plot to Blow Up The Eiffel Tower, you had played in the U.K., right? (Three former members of The Plot are in The Prayers) What were some of the tips and tricks that you picked up then for planning this tour?

B: I guess I was probably naive before about how expensive stuff like this can be and how much money you can lose if you don’t do everything as cheap as possible. So I kind of learned that lesson. We’re going to do everything as cheap as we can. We’re going to try to share a van with the band that we’re touring with, so we don’t have to hire one. We were talking about just taking the train around England and just bringing our guitars to save money.

BH: Were there any things that you muffed up completely the first time that you learned your lesson for this time around?

B: Not necessarily. Everything went fine when The Plot went over to Europe, but we just broke even, and that band was a lot bigger than this band is so far. We (The Plot) went in our fourth year and we (The Prayers) have only been around for a year now. And we had a bunch of records out. ...

So we don’t expect to have any fan base over there, so I just knew that if (The Plot) broke even barely, then this band will surely go pretty far into debt if we do some of the same things The Plot did. Like, we had a driver the whole time, we rented full equipment. That stuff adds up pretty fast. And I’m not expecting the same crowds or to sell the same amount of merch or anything like that.

BH: Do you know people over there? Are you working on trying to find people to stay with?

B: Yeah, we have friends in a lot of those cities. And just like in touring the States, you can just say something from the stage and usually somebody will volunteer to house you for the night. I mean, usually you end up meeting people at these venues anyway that you want to go hang out with afterwards, and half the time, they’ll just invite bands to stay.

BH: Overall, what are your goals for the tour?

B: Really, just to impress people with our music. ... If we can play every night to decent-sized crowds, I'll consider the tour a success. ... I don’t expect to go and get some hot shot record deal or anything like that. ...

It seems like in England music fans appreciate songs more so than they do here. Americans get so caught up in "riffs" and "chops" and "pipes" and stuff like that. We're not one of those bands, we focus on songs, marrying a good melody with intelligent words to a good chord progression. Hopefully someone will see us and want to put out our record. We're ready to record an album. ...

Breaking even would be a goal, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I know we’re not getting paid that well for the shows. It’s more like the opportunity to play to people there. The band that’s headlining already has a pretty good draw, so I’m sure they’re getting the majority of the money. And we’re just linking the chance to play to big crowds of people – I hope.

BH: When the band was offered the chance to go, was there any hesitation because of the money involved? You said before that you're down a bass player and that it's tough to ask someone to put up the money to go over?

B: Yeah, we couldn't find anyone here that both wanted to come over with us and could also afford the flight. So we found a British kid who is going to do it and he's learning the songs via tab and mp3's. Our first time playing together is probably going to be on stage. ...

The money issue is, of course, a source of stress, but what can you do? If you're really trying to do something and really want to escape the local-band ghetto you have to be willing to sacrifice and to suffer. Personally, I dropped out of college and organized my life years ago to make music my priority. I'm used to living pretty meagerly. This isn't the first time I've bankrupted myself for music and it won't be the last.

BH: The fact that you're putting in the time and putting up the dough to make this happen, is this a sign of how serious you guys are about the band? Or, to be blunt, is the band in a place financially that it could do this pretty easily?

B: No, we're not sitting pretty financially. But the three of us are using personal money to make it happen. We're getting paid OK over there but definitely not enough to cover our expenses. And yes, we're deathly serious about this band. You can't do anything half-assed if you want to escape, you know?

BH: What are you most excited about for the tour and what are you most nervous about? Or is there one thing that's both?

B: I'm most excited to get to see some cities I haven't seen before and to play to people who haven't seen us before. I have a lot of friends over there that I'm excited about seeing. I guess I'm most nervous about the financial aspects and also about the bass player situation, but I think it'll be OK.

The Prayers on Myspace (Leave them a comment wishing them safe travels)

The Modlins @ Scolari's, 5-12-07

The Modlins literally wear their 1950s-60s pop influences on their sleeves, but they definitely don't have the stodgy, statuesque live show that comes to mind when you think of Buddy Holly or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

On Saturday night, the Modlins played a fantastic mix of tracks of their album, older songs, and even a new song called "You Said" that they've been playing at their past few shows (which sounded especially good).

The band adds a bit of a rock to give their songs an extra edge live — guitarist and vocalist Eric Killian even did a full power-chord jump at one point — which makes for an extremely entertaining show that got the crowd up and dancing.

In a music scene full of secrets, the Modlins are one of S.D.'s best-kept. Don't ... sleep ... on ... this ... band ... even if you don't live in S.D. And if the suits scare you off, if you feel like it's too much of a gimmick, give it a chance. It completely fits their music and shows. Besides, your band has a gimmick, too.

The Modlins — Dragging My Feet (MP3)
The Modlins — I Wouldn't Know What To Do (MP3)
Baby Heisman interview with the Modlins
The Modlins on Myspace

Vinyl Radio @ Tower Bar, 5-12-07

After the Modlins show we sped over to the Tower Bar, where the Oly is $2 a can and your change comes back damp, to catch Vinyl Radio.

One reason I started this blog was to motivate myself to get out and see more local bands. In San Diego people have to hunt for bands more than people have do in PDX. Once you start looking, you find them easy enough, especially with Myspace, but there's still no substitution for seeing a local band live. Unless they have a lot of money or exceptional studio skills to turn out a polished album right away, the live shows are where bands show what they're really made of, what they've got for guts.

Vinyl Radio put on a clinic on that point Saturday night. I had been reading about them, seen them in the Myspace friends of a lot of other S.D. bands, but I wasn't blown away by the songs on their Myspace page. Not bad, but nothing that made me say "hot damn."

But from the first notes of their set, they grabbed my and my friends' attention. They were loose without being sloppy, loud without creating one undefinable ball of noise, and generally rocked the stage (well, the floor; no stage). They got the whole crowd into it early and kept them there, bobbing and dancing to the entire set.

While they're pretty different musically, and there were 20 blocks or so separating them, the Modlins and Vinyl Radio show made for one of the most fun double-bills in a while.

Vinyl Radio on Myspace

I still don't get why more S.D. bands don't get more notice. We've got a good alt-weekly and good blogs, and Saturday night the Modlins and Vinyl Radio reaffirmed that we've got good bands. I just don't get it, although I'm sure there's more than one reason.

Apologies to the Airlines, who opened for Vinyl Radio. We got there from the Modlins show just after they finished. They're now at the top of my must-see S.D. band list.