Sunday, April 11, 2010

Live: Spoon, Deerhunter, Micachu & The Shapes, 4/9/10

Spoon - Moore Theatre, Seattle, WA 4/9/2010
Plus Guests:
Micachu & The Shapes

Trying to learn from past experience, I brought a pair of earplugs to this show. Last time I saw Spoon live, before they released the album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, it was at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, and it was one of the loudest shows I've ever seen. This time, the earplugs never got out of their little box in my pocket. From my nosebleed seat in Seattle's Moore Theater, originally an opulent 1920s movie palace, I didn't need them. I might not have needed them had I been in the front row. The fact that a front row existed in the first place, not to mention the sound volume, signaled just how much Spoon's fan base has evolved in its growth since 2006. This production seemed to be catering to the fiftysomething crowd.

This was not lost on Deerhunter's Bradford Cox. The minute he stepped up to the microphone, he had one look at the rows of folding chairs on the floor, and said something like, "This is the weirdest shit I've ever seen." And later, "What is this, the Seattle High School talent show?" In the past, pairing Spoon and Deerhunter might not have been so odd. I imagine that Spoon ten years ago might have been something like Deerhunter today: Young, up-and-coming, fresh, hungry, new.

Fortunately, although Spoon's fans now include the normie crowd, the band is as eccentric as ever. On their latest album, Transference, Spoon shows as untouchable a talent as before for playing old-school rock 'n' roll that still somehow sounds new and hip. I wasn't too sure this would be the case after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, their most radio-friendly but least interesting effort to date. On stage, while always excellent performers, they've only improved. They played a long set spanning most of their career (I was a little disappointed they didn't play "Metal Detektor" or any other songs earlier than 2001's Girls Can Tell). Singer Britt Daniel's unique brand of stage presence adds an entertaining touch. He's as cool and confident on stage as any singer I've seen. My first time seeing Spoon, I was with a friend who had a huge rock-star crush on him. When he walked into the lobby, she blushed and hid behind me. It's just unfair.

While Spoon didn't disappoint, Deerhunter was the band I came to see. While not so polished as Spoon, they brought an energy and edginess foreign to Spoon's newer work. Despite some things going wrong (a guitar amp died midway through their set) they worked through it well. At first, they stuck to some of their most accessible material. I was especially pleased to hear "Hazel Street," one of my favorite of their songs, but I was also hoping to hear the likes of "Cryptograms," "Microcastle," "White Ink," or something of that weird streak. At first, Deerhunter stuck to more accessible material.

Then they blew my mind. What started as a cover of The Stooges' "I Want To Be Your Dog" morphed into a long, noisy, wild jam, with Cox giving an improvised speech on Curt Cobain, noting that the anniversary of Cobain's death had only been a few days earlier. In Seattle, where Nirvana T-shirts are sold in tourist shops alongside "Sleepless in Seattle" baseball caps, Cobain is fetishized in exactly the way that arguably drove him to suicide. So hearing references to Cobain can get a little tiresome, but not coming from Cox, someone who clearly has a genuine appreciation for Nirvana, who spent his whole day crying at age 12 when he heard the news. "I never thought I'd live to be 27," said Cox, who is now 27 (as am I), Cobain's age at death. He said things like, "I used to dream that Kurt Cobain would come from the sky with his flaming guitar and split open the heads of the kids who used to make me suck their dicks." Heavy stuff.

Micachu & The Shapes also put on a noteworthy performance. Hailing from the U.K. with a DIY vibe, they're a band I'd like to learn more about.

My only major complaint about the event: While Spoon got excellent audio treatment, it sounded like the sound engineer was taking a nap during Deerhunter's and Micachu & The Shapes' sets. Certainly most people came to see Spoon, but you've got to give a little love to the openers.

Watch: Jonathon Fisk by Spoon

"I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon

Hazel St. by Deerhunter (unofficial video?)

"Golden Phone" by Micachu & The Shapes

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Album Review: Atlas Sound - Logos

Atlas Sound
4AD / Kranky, 2009
Paul’s Rating: 8.5/10

I’ve listened to this album many times over during the past several weeks, yet it’s difficult to know where to begin reviewing it. I think I’ve figured out why: Writing about any Bradford Cox project almost invariably turns into a biography on Cox himself. Atlas Sound – arguably even more so than Cox’s more famous band, Deerhunter – Is the Bradford Cox project. At least, this is the one for which Cox is sole proprietor. As Cox’ Wikipedia bio indicates, it has been since he was a child. And this time, he’s brought some friends along, most notably Animal Collective’s Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier.

From the very start, if not for the distinct tremor of Cox’s voice, this would not easily be mistaken for a Deerhunter album. Opening track “The Light That Failed” slowly churns around a delicate acoustic guitar riff, incorporating high-pitched bells and thundering bass with not a lot in between. In doing so, it trades Deerhunter’s shoegazey wall-of-sound density for an expansiveness traditional rock instrumentation could not easily create.

The guest appearances do stick out. The two opening tracks almost go out of their way to avoid hooks. They manage – barely – to dovetail into “Walkabout,” in which Lennox makes his appearance. Catchy and melodic, it sounds like a Panda Bear song, not an Atlas Sound song. It makes the album difficult to parse, because it’s a great song.

It’s at this point one gets the idea that if Cox the auteur does have some grand vision, it’s much more apparent through Deerhunter, while Atlas Sound might represent a separate avenue for experimentation. Most of Logos does bear some of Deerhunter’s trademarks. Atmosphere, ambience, all woven through with threads of driving rhythms and clanging guitars – are present throughout, although accomplished with different instruments and different methods. To fault the Logos for the one thing it lacks: cohesiveness, would seem unfair. Part of its strength is its diversity. It doesn’t seem Cox was trying to create a magnum opus, and that’s okay.

There is something to be said for the overall quality of Cox’s various projects, which is very high, prolific as he is. On top of that, Atlas Sound speaks to his shrewdness for marketing his music. By giving it a separate name, he allows Deerhunter its own identity. It’s fortunate that he hasn’t done so by keeping the rest to himself.

Live: Deakin, Seattle, WA 3/31/2010

Deakin - Neumos, Seattle, WA 3/31/10
Plus Guests:
Peppermint Majesty

I'll admit, my main reason for marking this show on my calendar was because I saw it on the Neumos calendar and thought "Peppermint Majesty" was a good band name. Further research yielded some pleasant surprises. First, I hadn't noticed that Deakin, aka Josh Gibb, one of Animal Collective's three members, was the headliner. I was also unaware that two members of Peppermint Majesty are also in Fleet Foxes. Not to mention Jabon is by day known as Scott Colburn, the audio guru who recorded Animal Collective's "Feels" and Arcade Fire's Neon Bible.

All around, this show was a treat, but it wouldn't be for everyone. Peppermint Majesty bore a lot of similarities to Fleet Foxes, albeit less folksy and more poppy. Some of the songs they played, though not on any FF releases, sounded familiar, and I couldn't help but wonder if the Foxes had played some of those songs when I'd seen them live. PM's harmonies were very much in FF's style, but overall the sound had more Seattle and less Appalachia. Vibraphones and electric pianos and electric clarinet added a playfulness that distinguished them from FF.

It only got weirder from there. Jabon took the stage wearing a mask and robe, and performed a spooky experimental electronic set in the vein of Autechre ("Dark Ambient Avant-Garde Disco Comedy," in Jabon's own words). It was very interesting stuff, though the "comedy" element, as well as some troubles with the laptop on stage (Windows ME? Seriously?) undermined the mystery a bit.

Deakin, on the other hand, went out of his way to be more audience-accessible, even taking the time to explain his musical philosophies before beginning his set. Overall, I found his music much more original and interesting than Jabon's, all of it very much in Animal Collective's style. Even if a slower and more challenging listen, his songs paved a familiar, very lysergic landscape, offering a glimpse of Deakin's contribution to the band. He played sounds unrecognizable as guitar through a multitude of effects, along with some other unidentified noise-making devices. It was all very loud, sounds only a high-powered PA system can do justice.

To my surprise, there was no encore, and the crowd had thinned out a bit by the end of the show. I would have liked to see one, though  will admit I was a little relieved, having forgotten my earplugs. It was a bit over the pain threshold. Don't get me wrong, I like my concerts loud, but if it comes to a choice between losing my hearing and having the sound muffled by earplugs, I'd rather have the volume knob turned back down to "10." If I was just a once-in-a-while concert goer, that might be different, but this is a lifestyle for me, and I hope I have some hearing left by the time I'm 30.