Sunday, April 8, 2012

Middle of the Map Fest, Kansas City, 4/7

In the bright light of post-rain sunshine, Kansas City sparkles like it was just unwrapped. We drove up to the Beaumont Club and found a long line of hip folk waiting good-naturedly to get in to the Sleeper Agent set there. Once sorted, we scored a lucky parking spot and went to check out the Casket Lottery, a band whose music my friend Brad introduced me to a decade ago. The three songs he sent me were so killer in their drumming and organization that they were a major influence on Bound Stems when we first started. I had no idea they were from KC. They played to a packed Riot Room (so far, one of my favorite clubs in the Midwest), mixing old and new songs and pulling major fast ones with the time signature. Loved it loved it. We got a chance to talk with Nathan, the drummer from the Casket Lottery (also due to go on with Coalesce later in the evening), to give him his propers.

From there we found Marty from tourmates Cowboy Indian Bear straight off. That guy is a one-man welcome wagon, friend to every soul in KC, and he took us on a quick tour of the whole scene. Gusto's is a foxy spot, with wide-open windows and a great sound system, and we got there just as DJ Mahf was doing something stunning to an Adele song I'm otherwise sick to death of. Man's got skills. Sleeper Agent was rocking the Beaumont, and now we have to go find their record, because the little bit we saw of their set was totally invigorating. We split off to get some good food at the Beer Kitchen, then started the load-in at McCoy's, where Beau Jennings & the Tigers were playing before us. I must admit that, besides enjoying the song with the lyrics about "four drink tickets," I was mainly aware of how much louder we were going to be than them. But one hectic set-up later, we were strapped in for the set and looking out at a surprising crowded house. We had a blast throughout, and tried a couple of new songs out for the first time. It's tricky playing a restaurant bar, especially one with TVs around, but somehow the space transformed itself into a club for the duration of our set, and we made the most.

So many great bands playing! Just on our night, Saturday, some highlights were La Guerre (Katlyn from Cowboy Indian Bear's other project), El Ten Eleven, the Casket Lottery, the Appleseed Cast, Coalesce, Neon Indian, Mr. Gnome, Broncho, and Acid Mother's Temple. Also fun., the surprise breakout band of the moment, but I can't say I've actually heard their single, and I definitely wasn't going to take a spot in their crowd away from someone who wanted to be there. Thursday and Friday the hot shit in my opinion included Capybara, Soft Reeds (recently recommended), Life and Times, Mission of Burma (!), Owen, White Denim, Cowboy Indian Bear, Mates of State, Murder by Death, Season to Risk, and Schwervon... Also a band called Cher UK—though why would you call your band that? The lineup was unreal, and Kansas City really felt lit up with great music in every direction.

After our set we caught up with Nan and Matt from Schwervon!, new friends recently arrived to KC from NYC. They generously offered their new place for us to crash, which is how we discovered the charms of nearby Shawnee. Both Nan and Matt are total sweethearts, and the beer and conversation went late into the night. Morning was home-made eggs, pancakes and hashbrowns in a kitchen that seemed almost like a theatrical interpretation of '70s American Homestyle Interior...which I mean in the best way. I recognized several details—illustrated wallpaper, blond wood cabinets with beaten brass handles, colorful shag carpet—from the house I grew up in. KC's lucky to have 'em, and we look forward to hosting them when they play El Lenador May 9 with Warm Jets USA and Jumpstarts. Stag party on the way from Kansas City!


These photos by Michael Forester and more from the fest can be found here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

LouFest 2012 Lineup

The lineup for LouFest 2012 just got released, and it turns out Sleepy Kitty's on it. Which is righteous! Especially because this year's lineup in particular resonates with us.

Some personal notes on some of those bands:

- I used to go see THE FLAMING LIPS way way back with the Harvey Dangers, when they draped the old Moe in millions of Christmas lights and the old guitarist with the crazy dark hair stood next to his seven foot tall wall of effects calmly destroying all the soundwaves in the room. I also saw one of their parking lot experiments which totally changed my life. They have made the world a better place.

- In my last band, Bound Stems, we found out about Park the Van Records, and their bands Teeth and DR. DOG. I was determined to play with Dr. Dog, who were then a mostly Pennsylvania band and just out of our van's driving range. Later I saw them in the corner of a bar at SXSW in the broad daylight, and they were every bit as arresting as I thought they must be.

- It may be that no one I know is familiar with COTTON MATHER, but not for lack of my trying. By pure chance I came across an album of theirs, called "Kon-Tiki," shortly before it was released in the late '90s. It was my roommate's advance copy for review, on a stack of other advance copies for review. The cover was really beautiful, and I put it in... and it's been in my player at least a few times a year ever since. There's something about Robert Harrison's voice that picks up on an angle of John Lennon I've ever seen anyone else explore, while cherrypicking some of the best details of Big Star compositions. Kon-Tiki is one of those under-appreciated classics that I've been proselytizing forever, and I'm going to be working overtime to make sure my musical friends know how important it is to be in the crowd when Cotton Mather gets onstage at LouFest. This is a mighty booking.

- HACIENDA opened for the Greenhornes at the Firebird not too terribly long ago (there's a great poster by Jason Potter from that show), and they have that psych-rock sky-filling reverby guitar that opens the night right up. It sounded like deserts, vultures, peyote, and medicine from the medicine man.

...That's as far as I can write tonight, though there will be more. This LouFest lineup is deep.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Belated Tour Diary, New Orleans, March 16-18

The freeways leading to New Orleans are mostly suspended over gator-breeding swamps and rivers, and it makes the van feel like a time machine headed as far backwards as sideways. Arriving to the Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans by night only confirms that feeling: narrow streets, foreign architecture, gigantic fragrant flowers, curving boulevards, tiled lettering set in the corners of the sidewalks with streetnames like Desire, Piety, Galliard... Where ARE we? When are we?

Euclid Records expanded down here recently, but they seem to have pulled the same trick as the city itself: in a little more than a year, they've created a store that looks like it's been there for decades. Credit James Weber, a guy who was moving out of St. Louis as we were moving in. We met him at the door of the shop and he loaded us in, then took us on a tour of the neighborhood bars. Nothing like a dark street on a warm night in the South with a (perfectly legal) drink in my hand to make me reconsider my life decisions: where has New Orleans been all my life?

We came to New Orleans ostensibly to check out the Southern Graphics Conference meeting that weekend. The SGC event last year happened in St. Louis, and the after-party on Cherokee Street was our neighborhood's shining moment to date. We also had an in-store at Euclid NOLA on Saturday, just a couple blocks from the Ironworks where SGC was headquartered. And: it was St. Patrick's Day, with a parade due to pass practically right outside the door of the store. So basically we were there to check out the scene and see what happened.

The Bywater is a completely different beast than the French Quarter—grimy, overgrown, and in a state of abundantly elegant decay. It's painfully beautiful. We stopped in at Frady's to get a potato po' boy, then wandered the neighborhood and poked into the thrift shops, on the hunt for something green to wear since we'd forgotten to pack for the holiday.

After our set at Euclid James introduced us to Jayson Knox, a guitarist around town who took us over to see the new instrument shop, Bywater Music, where half the gear was calling our name. The parade was starting to roll by outside, starting with a giant phalanx of fancy dune buggies with merry old men gunning the engines. A band played across the street from the crowd at Markey's, who spilled way past the sidewalk into the narrow street and made conversation with the motorcycle cops lining the way. There was just barely room for each truck or float to crawl past without crushing toes; beads abounded. Paige and I had managed to divide a green scarf we found into a hair ribbon and some wristbands, which was good because everyone was wearing some green or other. Matty and Eric Firecracker showed up to toast, and an hour or so after the final float of the proper parade drifted away the SGC procession went by in a blur of majorly detailed, hand-printed traincars. They looked dirty and really happy.

The night gets blurry. There was a looong dinner and a clothing-optional swimming pool, then another bar, then somehow the walking drinks led us to a venue in which a band of veteran punks backed an alternating pair of wizened, sharp-dressed black bluesmen. Then we were in the street with Jayson making our way toward a place that promised Hubig's, the locally made pie (!), and then to another bar, and then we were at last back on Desire, letting ourselves into the pad. The night smelled like all the hanging flowers we'd been walking under.

Good call on Euclid NOLA, Joe.

Belated Tour Diary: SXSW 3/14-3/16

It's not that I've never seen lasers before. Or smoke machines. But I think this year at SXSW was the first time I saw them both deployed outdoors, overhead, on city streets, hazing up the entire town and its imported crowds. The whole scene felt somewhere between Disneyland, Mardi Gras, and a post-show arena parking lot. But there was definitely plenty of action, and more colliding instruments than a crowded practice space hallway. We ran into old friends like Marc Hawthorne and Chris Walla, met friends of friends like Beau Sorenson, and heard plenty of live music. One fine detail of SXSW is that a few venues are situated with the drummer in the back corner of the stage, as usual, but one giant open window to the street, so passersby see (and hear) the show from the drummer's perspective. It's a rare view, and some drummers handle it better than others. Best case scenario is a band like Cherri Bomb, who we happened across mid-set. Four foxed-up girls ("We'd buy you all drinks, but we're UNDER AGE!" the singer hollered before one song) blasting out a packed room, their surprise superpower was the drummer, who had collected her own crowd of admirers watching from outside. After watching a couple songs inside, I had to go out there too, just to watch her joking, flirting, gulping water, and flinging sticks while keeping perfect time on bashing drum parts. I don't know if I liked their music, but I totally loved their show.

Thursday started at Valhalla, where our friend Gary Pierson had helped us jump on a show with Santah, Static Jacks, and Stamps. Excellent. The show started—before the doors opened—with a hiphop set by a guy named Irrational Zac ("like regular Zac, but crazy"). Everyone was in a good mood, so that even when the booker looked over at me and said, "Did that rapper just light a blunt onstage?," the bartender just stepped up to the stage and snuffed it. Good for everyone. Playing a club stage with bright sunlight streaming in is a strange experience, but playing to friendlies made it an easy pleasure. We were familiar with Santah's music from Chicago, but Static Jacks were new to us, and they rocked super hard. I was outside with gear, but Paige testifies that it was righteous. We wanted to stick around for Stamps, but we were due at our next set across town.

The KDHX Twangfest showcase took place at Jovita's in the most charming section of Austin, across the river from the main madhouse. The weather was perfect, and the lineup was too: we missed Wussy (damn damn DAMN), but arrived to the sound of John Doe's set, caught a bit of Chuck Prophet, a bit of Water Liars, and then Brown Bird's full set. Man, their take on how to do a two-piece band should not be missed. We played next, then got to see the Figgs, who I've listened to over the years but never seen in action. Fine fellows, and they clearly started with the crowd on their side—people cheered the announcement of each song title. My favorite was their killer take on Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul," a song I've loved since I was yea big. "Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster," followed by a buzzy, wired Neil Young solo; oh my yes.

That night, after failing to get to the Flatstock poster exhibition in time, weaving our way toward Mike Musikanto's showcase, we stopped for some food-truck snacks. Projected overhead was a hiphop show in progress. From the sound of it, probably a million-selling artist, but news to my ears. The only lyrics I could make out were about good dank and good drank, leading to the chorus: "Purple sweat / sweat! / sweat! / sweat!" I couldn't help thinking about that color as a milemarker in the history of pop music, from "Purple Haze" to "Purple Rain" to, finally, "Purple Sweat." Who shall write the next chapter on colored bodily fluids?

But enough. New Orleans beckons.