Sacco, Blitzen Trapper, and David Vandervelde at Walter’s (July 18, 2007)

20 07 2007

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From left: Michael Van Pelt, Brian Koch, Eric Earley, Drew Laughery, and Marty Marquis of Blitzen Trapper

 

After nodding to the crowd of frowning, crew-cut sporting lesbians that appears to congregate more frequently in the parking lot of Community Gospel Church than within it’s gay-friendly doors, I walked the short but sketchy route to Walter’s to see one of my recent personal faves: Blitzen Trapper.
Tickets were $8 at the door, and the smile I received at the ticket counter when I presented my hands to be x-ed out was the first sign of the night’s terrifying reality: at 18, I was the youngest concert-goer there. Sweet.

Normally this would have sucked just enough for me to leave, but I instead opted to wait around, sip my water, and watch as the crowd collectively lowered their risk of Parkinson’s.

 

Sacco opened the show at 9:30 (the requisite 30 minutes later than the time posted at the door) to the amount of fan-fare one would expect as a random opener on a Wednesday night.
Actually, the only person who seemed really into Sacco from the beginning was a cowboy boots wearing cougar. Lead singer Marshall stuck in there though, aware that no one knew who they were and that the crowd of about forty had really come to see Blitzen Trapper and David Vandervelde.

Sacco played an all-acoustic set which, though consistently pretty good, picked up slightly after the aforementioned cougar-in-boots bought the guys a couple of Walter’s $2 Hump Day Drink Specials. “No clear liquor” was the band’s only request.
They kept their set short and sweet, and, sadly, left the venue before Blitzen Trapper had finished.

After a quick swap of guitars and amps, Blitzen Trapper took the stage.

For the uninitiated, Blitzen Trapper is a band out of Portland whose energy, attitude, and incredible niceness (like that their fellow Portland, Oregonians The Thermals and Menomena) make for a great show. I am beginning to believe that all artists should come from Portland.
Vocalist and guitarist Eric Earley, whose voice is reminiscent of The Shins’ James Mercer, leads the band and the rest of the group is comprised of Erik Menteer (guitar, keyboard), Michael VanPelt (bass), Brian Koch (drums), Drew Laughery (keyboard), and Marty Marquis (vocals, keys, maracas).

The sextet filled Walter’s 15’x25’ stage easily, though the tight quarters did nothing to lessen the spastic dancing of Marquis – who, unless he did laundry on the way down from Dallas yesterday, and has a very tight wear-wash-wear cycle, has worn the same yellow Coor’s “Glass of ‘76” shirt twice in a row – a fact I dismissed once I caught a glimpse of his maroon Chums. What a man.

BT played a solid set, covering the majority of their new album Wild Mountain Nation, as well as crowd-pleaser “Texaco” and a few others off of their 2003 self-titled debut.
Jumping styles between energetic stomps like “Wild Mountain Nation” and more soulful, borderline surf-rock, Blitzen Trapper kept the crowd on their toes. Towards the middle of the set, the guys brought it down to about 30 bpm on a track that Laughery wrote, channeling the Flaming Lips in the best way possible.

One David Vandervelde fan who I talked to at the bar early on in the night even came up to me, rubbing my back a little too much and, grinning, said, “You’re right! Who are these guys? They are good…”

I inched slowly away from that creeper as the band led into “Appletrees” and “Reno” to end the set.

After their show, the band manned the merch table, which featured thrift-store threads silk-screened by hand by Erik Menteer. The band seemed excited, if not a little bit overwhelmed, by the love they got from the fans who surrounded them for autographs.

“I love Houston,” Earley said as we talked, smiling warmly as he rolled a cigarette – the end of a good night.

 

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Buy Blitzen Trapper’s Wild Mountain Nation here.

Get a free mp3 of “Wild Mountain Nation” off of the album Wild Mountain Nation by clicking here.
Get a free mp3 of “Texaco” off of the album Blitzen Trapper by clicking here.

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St. Vincent and Scout Niblett at Walter’s (July 8, 2007)

10 07 2007

Dallas native Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent)

 

“It wasn’t so much the vocals as the polyphonic wailing…”
– William, on why he left the St. Vincent show early

A mere two days before St. Vincent’s absolutely incredible album Marry Me dropped, and I was shocked by the turn-out to see Scout Niblett and St. Vincent at Walter’s on Sunday night – in more ways than one.

While Scout Niblett has not made much of a splash here in the states, her music is supposedly doing a little better back in her native England. Emma Louise Niblett, who performs under the name “Scout,” is a singer-songwriter who plays either the drums or the guitar. Not to knock Niblett, but a little enthusiasm goes a long way on stage. Her sound is hard to peg – like Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick crossed with Cat Power on a lot of downers.
The only song that anyone seemed to like was “Dinosaur Egg,” and most were confused by “Pom-Poms” during which she stopped playing guitar completely, shuffled to the back of the stage, appeared to pop a handful of pills, and sat down to play drums. All in all, it was a pretty forgettable performance and I am glad I didn’t spend my money on her CD.

Niblett’s set lasted a long 45 minutes, but she cleared out quickly as the excitement grew before St. Vincent took the stage.

The past few years have been pretty good for St. Vincent. At 24, Annie Clark (as she is known off-stage) has toured with the likes of Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree, playing guitar for both, and has opened for The Arcade Fire, John Vanderslice, and Xiu Xiu, among others. Now, starting off on her first tour as a headliner, St. Vincent is finally earning the praise that she so deserves.

I was a bit disappointed to see that she only sang and played guitar and bass during her live show – I say “only” because her credits on Marry Me are listed as “vocals, guitar, bass, piano, organ, moog [a type of synth whose name rhymes with “vogue”], synthesizer, clavietta, xylophone, vibraphone, dulcimer, drum programmer, triangle, [and] percussion.” Simply put, Annie Clark rocks.
So why oh why then was there such a small crowd? Granted, it was a Sunday night, but I really expected her to draw an audience much larger than the one of roughly sixty or so that was in attendance. The fact that no less than one fifth of the crowd was made up of members of either Episcopal High School’s class of ’06 or class of ’07 (woo!) was extremely amusing and just goes to show – you wanna be one of the cool kids? Listen to St. Vincent… now take a hit of this… come on, man, everybody’s doing it.

The fact that this is St. Vincent’s first time as a headliner would certainly be surprising to anyone who was at her Houston show… she had incredible stage presence and took time to talk with the crowd between songs, although she did have to be reminded to thank Scout Niblett for opening… a little bit unprofessional, but I definitely don’t blame her. The only thing she seemed actually nervous about was her album artwork:
“My CD is on sale over there,” she said during a break, “it’s the one with my face on it, so you can’t miss it. If you buy it, then, after the show, I’ll actually personally deface it for you… throw on some prison tattoos, or maybe like an eye-patch. ‘Cus that’s just the kind of artist I am…”

“I thought we’d do something right now,” she said at one point between songs, “I’m not sure if you know, but the Flaming Lips always do all these amazing things in concert, so I wanted to do something like that and hand out cough syrup to you at the door. So, go see that man back there, get yourself some, and then we’ll take things down to about 20 BPM and just let you ride that wave…” The SuperUnison rep at the ticket counter appeared flustered as the crowd turned to see if her offer was legit, and nervously laughed it off when she continued, “… No, not really.”

Joined on-stage by violinist Daniel Hart, drummer Brian Teasley, and a bassist/guitarist/clavietta player whose name I didn’t catch (was it Mark?), St. Vincent played through Marry Me in its entirety (the album is only 45 minutes long) – ending the show with a live version of “Paris Is Burning” that was nothing short of amazing.

Also included in the set was a song that has not yet been released, titled “Bang, Bang.”

“We’ve played a lot of love songs up here tonight,” she said to hoots from the crowd, “but it’s time we changed things up. This is a song about murder.”
Played without any back up, “Bang, Bang” was a hit with the crowd, and I would not be surprised if it is released later in the year as a single/B-side. In fact, I would be thrilled.

After the show, Annie Clark was more than happy to sign CDs, and was especially excited to see that people were buying Marry Me on vinyl.

And while I settled for an autograph, Clark was true to her word and gave my friend Susie’s CD cover an eye-patch. Because she’s just that kind of artist.

 

 

 

Read what The New York Times has to say about Marry Me here.

Buy St. Vincent’s Marry Me here.





Menomena at Walter’s on Washington (June 20, 2007)

22 06 2007

 

Brent Knopf

 

 

 

Justin Harris

 

Danny Seim

Those who know me know that I am a huge Menomena fan. A quick check of my Last.fm profile affirms my suspicion that, yes, Menomena is my top played artist, and with good reason – the threesome out of Portland, Oregon have been wowing critics and fans alike with their latest release, Friend and Foe, out on Barsuk Records and are now on tour supporting the album.

Although I looked forward to seeing them live for months, as June 20th came nearer, I began to worry about whether or not they would live up to my expectations live. In the studio, they create rich musical landscapes with the aid of a digital looping recorder (DLR), nicknamed the “deeler.” Drummer Danny Siem describes the recording process:

“First, we set the tempo of the click, which is played through a pair of headphones. We then take turns passing a single mic around the room. One of us will hold the mic in front of an instrument, while another one of us will lay down a short improvised riff over the click track. We usually start with the drums. Once the drums begin looping, we throw on some bass, piano, guitar, bells, sax, or whatever other sort of noisemaker happens to be in the room. Deeler keeps the process democratic, which is the only way we can operate”.

Knowing this, I wondered how it could be possible to recreate the studio sound in a live setting. While the band did struggle early on in the tour with the logistics of doing so, by the time they reached the stage at Walter’s on Washington here in Houston, they had the wrinkles ironed out, and played one of the most amazing live sets I have ever seen.

What is most remarkable about Menomena (and let’s get it out of the way here, it’s pronounced meh-NAW-meh-nuh), is the musical ability that all three share – juggling between two and five instruments apiece.

Laura and I arrived early to Walter’s, so as to be close to Menomena when they took the stage, and watched as a keyboard, xylophone, laptop, drum kit, pedal board, two saxophones, and various basses and guitars were brought onstage before Menomena launched into an incredible set, combining tracks from both Friend and Foe and 2004’s I Am The Fun Blame Monster.

Danny’s set list:

(Ghostship, Twenty Cell Revolt, Weird, Strongest Man in the World, The Pelican, My My, Wet and Rusting, Muscle n’ Flo, Boyscout’n, The Late Great Libido, Rotten Hell, Cough Coughing, Evil Bee)

Brent Knopf, set up on stage right, played primarily keyboard but also manned the Deeler, guitar, and xylophone – often utilizing them all at once. Justin Harris, center, is the primary vocalist (though all members of the band share singing and songwriting duties equally), and played bass and guitar as well as both alto and tenor saxophone. Harris also rocked what I can only assume to be some kind of moog synthesizer. Finally, drummer Danny Siem absolutely wailed on the drums at stage left, but sang and played the xylophone intermittently as well. I honestly thought at some points that his drumsticks were going to snap in half, he beat those drums so hard – while barefoot, I might add. I think I’m in love…

Their talent is unlike anything I have ever seen, and had I not witnessed it live I’m sure I never could have imagined anything like it.

The crowd of about 100 showed a lot of love for the band, who were somewhat shocked by the turnout.

“We came here about a year and a half ago, and it was an empty house. There were about 7 people here,” said Harris between songs. “But then again, it was election day.. I guess all you guys were out voting, right? Well, anyway, glad to see you guys out here tonight.”

After the show, the crowd cleared out rather quickly, but the guys were more than happy to chat with their fans and sign CDs and posters. It has been my general experience that people from Oregon are some of the nicest in the country (I spent part of one summer biking, rafting, surfing, snowboarding, and just straight bumming around all parts of Oregon), and Knopf, Harris, and Siem do not disappoint.

 

 

View my photos on Flickr.

Buy Menomena’s album Friend and Foe here.