Sunday, May 23, 2010

Let The National Love Continue

There was little doubt walking into The Wiltern last night that I was going to enjoy THE NATIONAL live. With some bands you just get a sense that they will transition live based on what you hear on record. Bands that have a large amount of interplay between members and a clear understanding of pacing on record usually put on a pretty good live show. So allow me a few thoughts on what I experienced last night:

1) Credit the band with starting the night with "Start a War". The song live builds nicely a set a tone for the evening. On most nights they open with either "Mistaken For Strangers" or "Anyone's Ghost". These were slotted down to two and three and allowed the audience the chance to get prepped.

2) Even though this was my first time seeing them, the band is obviously tour vets and has a much more powerful live sound. The guitars crash and shred through the songs and the drums have a larger power live then on record (which is surprising given that drums are usually very prevalent in the final mixes of most of their songs).

3) The newer material does not suffer by comparison to the older songs. "Bloodbuzz Ohio", "Afraid of Everyone" and "Lemonworld" hold their own and will surely be in the live show in some form for awhile.

4) Even songs I am not particularly fond of, such as "Baby, We'll Be Fine", played well live. This is a testament to Matt Berringer's conviction to making each song have a distinct feel. When your voice is that unique it helps even the lesser material shine.

5) They deliver on a set list that's for sure. 21 songs and almost two hours (including all but one of the new songs.) Well done indeed!!

6) Kudos to the band (or their management) for getting a quality opening act. RAMONA FALLS were very good in their own right. When you wake up the next day and rehash the show in your head and it includes songs from the warm up act, that's a testament to the chops of the first act to take the stage. However, if they ever want to get anywhere the lead singer is going to have to speak at some point.

7) The ending of a show is of particular importance. This is usually reserved for their more popular songs. With THE NATIONAL, that includes "Mr. November" (which got the second to last spot) and "Fake Empire" (which ended the main set). Both were brilliant and worth the wait and yet...

8) Special props to the version of "Terrible Love". A gutsy move to end with a new song (which U2 tried with "Moment of Surrender" on the last tour and flopped) but here it was a good call. The band clearly enjoys playing it. It's tempo and sound sum up the night well and was well received by the crowd. A new classic was born.

So what does all this mean. THE NATIONAL are amazing live. Like there was going to be any doubt.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Everything about this screams INDIE ROCK!!

When you name your band you have to be careful. Often it will go a long way to determining who will listen to you and which people will even take the time review your material. When you don't put enough effort into your name it can be highly detrimental to your success. Take THE FOO FIGHTERS for example. Coming on the heals of the end of NIRVANA, Dave Grohl had to form a new band to allow him to continue his creative output. Back then I was working at a record label and a friend handed me a cassette with the band's name and nothing else. Now, had I not done my homework I might of just passed on it just like I had several thousand other promo cd's and tapes that I had received. But for some reason I didn't. Imagine if the same thing had happened if no one knew who Dave Grohl was. We would have missed out on a truly great band.

(this is not to say I had any hand in THE FOO FIGHTERS success, I merely had an early release copy and played it on my show before anyone else in Southern California, but since my radio station had the transmission strength of two cans and a string, it had no real historical impact.)

Which brings us to SOMEONE STILL LOVES YOU, BORIS YELTSIN. This would be an easy band to dismiss since the name is so preposterous and in some ways overly pretentious. We get it, you're smart. Must you bludgeon us with your knowledge of Cold War era Russian politics? I bring this up because I did initially dismiss this Missouri band precisely for this reason. I am here to admit I was wrong. They are in fact, a very good indie rock band. They have inhaled the REM and PAVEMENT catalogues to produce a pretty high quality catalogue of quirky pop tunes. Their latest record, "Let It Sway" is due out in August and they have released the title track first single. A perfect piece of jangly, shining pop music that has piqued my interest in their older material as well as whet my appetite for the new record. I think I have now played this about 7 times in a row. It's just that addicting.

Just another case of judging book by it's cover (or band by it's name)...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Band of Horses

Band of Horses is one of those bands that seems out of place in the current music universe. The have developed a sound that is reminiscent of 70's rock in the use of layered vocals, a slight country tinge to the guitars and a soft feel to the lyrics. Their latest, "Infinite Arms", builds on the formula with little tweaks here and there to separate it from the earlier work. "Laredo" has all the markings of the traditional BOH song, where "Dilly" uses a nice keyboard line to drive the mid tempo track. Of the slower songs, "Way Back Home" has a sweet southern sound as if played on the front porch in the summer. The title track meanders around with a slight Cowboy Junkies vibe to it.

The thing I most enjoy about the record is the way that each listens reveals a new sound or texture. The record has not gotten stale as it has moved from new rotation to simply coming up on random on the iPod. A sign of a good record is one that continues to surprise.
Link Removed per request...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

For over two months I have sat dormant in the blogging universe (a self imposed exile). The reasons are not important, but I have gotten the itch to write again mainly because my wife has bohtered me to start again but also because I enjoy sharing music with others. So I will dive back in and see how long I can keep it up.

I would like to think that THE NATIONAL released a record partially to get me to start writing again. Long time favorites of Your Moment of Zen, the Ohio bred collective have released "High Violet" to quite the critical acclaim. This is in no way suprising since there last two records have also be highly lauded efforts. "High Violet" sounds fresh and yet comforting at the same time. There is something about Matt Berringer's bariotone voice that is so distinctive, like a well aged scotch or a fine cigar. It just has that smokey sound that gives the songs a different feel then the run of the mill indie rock out there today. But with the new record he does sing a few songs in a higher range that is new and yet does not sacrifice the overall sound.

Musically, the record is not a huge departure from the previous two efforts. Although there is nothing as gorgeous as "Fake Empire" from the last record, there are some memorable moments. "Terrible Love" opens the album with a slow building anthem that uses guitars to cascade over a pulsing stop start drum beat. "Sorrow" is a prototypical National song, full of somber lyrics, textured guitars and a steady bass line. "Afraid of Everyone" is an overtly political song that has a feel of earlier era U2. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" kicks off with a great drum break before settiling into a nice rhythmic track that will certainly sound better live. The highlight of the record for me has to "Lemonworld". Starting off with a simple guitar line and building on the drums and bass, Berringer recalls the tale of traveling through New York in a surreal dream post military life.

The National are poised for greatness with this record. It has enough mass appeal to be commercially viable and yet artistically challenging to satisfy their hardcore fan base.

The National--Bloodbuzz Ohio