Thursday, August 12, 2010

In The Music We Rise Above

Trashcan Sinatras
Magic Stick
June 8, 2010

Glasgow Popsmiths, The Trashcan Sinatras, formed in 1986, are sighing at the sign of the second quarter of life. Once college radio darlings, they have continued off the radar to release clever melancholy pop songs. Rabid fans help to keep their creative fires burning. On this tour in support of their latest album, In The Music, and with strong followings on both coasts, they made stops throughout the Midwest as to ply their craft and build their fan base. The Detroit show took place at a half-full Magic Stick where the loud applause registered surprise on the bands’ faces. In answer one reveler shouted out, we’re a 'small but passionate group of fans'. The band's response was to give these fans the best show they could.

1.   people
2.   easy on the eye
3.   all the dark horses
4.   send for henny
5.   in the music
6.   easy read
7.   hayfever
8.   got carried away
9.   i hung my harp upon the willows
10. freetime
11. i see the moon
12. obscurity knocks
13. prisons
14. oranges and apples
15. bloodrush
16. i wish you'd met her
17. astronomy
18. i've seen everything
19. weightlifting

Their debut, Cake (1990), broke them here in the States, cracking the Billboard Top 200 while drawing comparisons to The Smiths. Many lifelong fans consider it their best offering to date. Live, they featured only 1 track from Cake, their hit single, Obscurity Knocks, which drew swoons and sing-alongs from the crowd.

The setlist drew heavily from their latest offering, In The Music  and sounded wonderfully energetic live. People, their latest single, was a great first number. The next ten songs flowed effortlessly, stirring up emotions and memories of when they were first heard or what they have come to mean. These songs from Weightlifting, I've Seen Everything and In The Music fit very well together.

Frank's voice was angelic and the not-often-mentioned background vocals of Stephen were sublime. John and Paul's dueling guitars added flourishes as they swapped melodies and riffs that elevated the songs. The new bass player, Frank DiVanna, skillfully laid the foundation and really seemed to enjoy playing the songs as the show progressed. And the often smiling Stevie Mulhearn was the in-band cheerleader and added the great intro music and fills throughout the set.

I See The Moon, Oranges and Apples and Astronomy seemed to slow the show down perceptively. They seemed to take the momentum away. These songs although gorgeously arranged and written are perhaps better on a stereo listening at home rather than at a concert. The band ended the set with Orange and Apples which followed the lively Prisons (with the delicious My Sweet Lord extended jam.) Prisons would have been a better choice to end before the encore. However, the crowd didn't disappoint and gave a loud round of applause to bring the boys back out on stage.

The encore opened with a crowd favorite, Bloodrush, and concluded with the title track from 2004's Weightlifting. Frank, the lead singer, perhaps moved by the earlier comment dedicated the final song to the fans who showed up in spite of the economic times in this city.  The song which is about the band’s own re-birth after financial troubles was surely heartfelt by their Detroit fans.

Check out the hip video for People.

Luka Bloom's Recalls his Dreams In America

1.Dreams in America
2.Bridge of Sorrow
3.Love Is A Place I Dream Of
4.Don't Be So Hard On Yourself
5.Blackberry Time
6.Lord Franklin
7.See You Soon
9.The Acoustic Motorbike
10.Cold Comfort
11.Be Still Now
12.Black Is The Colour
13.I Hear Her, Like Lorelei (Live)
14.Love Is A Monsoon (Live)
15.Sunny Sailor Boy (Live)

Available September 28, 2010
To pre-order / listen to tracks go to Compass Records 

As an avid fan since his debut, Riverside (1990), I tend to be critical of Luka's work. I regard him and his work highly and expect the most from his output and like most when Luka challenges himself with different genres, arrangements, and production aesthetics. His recent Eleven Songs (2009) is among his best work which includes Riverside, Acoustic Motorbike (1992) and Salty Heaven (1999).

I was excited to learn that Luka was releasing a retrospective with re-recorded tracks. I love when artists re-interpret their songs. It gives the songs a chance to live and breathe and change. The artist can sometimes finish a cloudy thought or change one word and instill a completely different meaning and feel to a song.

What is great on this record are the songs that have a different treatment than their studio versions. Blackberry Time and Ciara are fantastic. There's an immediacy and intimacy in these versions. Stripped down when compared to Salty Heaven (like his live performances.)  Some people feel that Salty Heaven is over-produced. I disagree. I believe that Luka's songwriting and style is enhanced by adding additional melodies, instruments and musicians.  Also, listeners get their cake and can eat it too when Luka produces a full-band album because he usually tours solo.

Acoustic Motorbike is also great on this record with an extended lively version; his voice echoing near the end. Lord Franklin, a new song, is beautiful and reminiscent of the wonderful Listen To The River. Lovely.

There are a number of tracks that were a bit of a let down; songs that are verbatim of other studio albums or just not very strong tracks to begin with. What is the point in including Dreams In America, Love Is A Place The I Dream Of, Cold Comfort and See You Soon? These versions are so close to the originals, they do not add any new colors. However, for the infrequent fan they are a good primer.

An expection is Black Is The Color which although has a similar treatment as Turf (1994) has something imperceptible about it that justifies its inclusion. Luka's emotion as he sings it makes the listener believe he's in love with a raven haired woman right now.

The pretty but sleepy Be Still Now and Bridge of Sorrow are examples of ones that could have been left behind. They were weak before and the verdict remains the same here.  With a catalogue overflowing with strong material these two were head scratchers.

The album finishes with a live version of Sunny Sailor Boy; a song included in almost every live set with lyrics written by Mike Scott of the Waterboys that are a little too saccharin. It was also released on his live album, Amsterdam, in an almost twin version which makes its inclusion here redundant.

However, the two songs before it are examples of what works well and what leaves the listener wanting more of. I Hear Her, Like Lorelei and Love Is A Monsoon sound absolutely incredible and are taken from National Concert Hall show in Dublin, August 2009 which paired Luka with an orchestra and acclaimed singer Eddi Reader.  Perhaps he is planning to release the show as an live album. These two tracks are the epitome of how Luka's already well-crafted songs can be elevated even further. The plucking of the violins during Monsoon is delicious, the arrangements rich in texture and emotion. Lorelei leaves me breathless.

I think what would have made for a truly great record is if the songs that were previously recorded in a more paired down fashion (from albums like Turf and Innocence) got more of a full-band treatment and songs that were previously produced with a full-band feel (like Salty Heaven and Acoustic Motorbike) were stripped down more.

With all retrospectives, fans can spend hours debating the tracks included versus what they would have liked to see. That's part of the fun. No doubt in this case, fans will debate both the song choices and the versions of them.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I was Carried to Royal Oak in a Swarm of Bees

The National concert review

Royal Oak Music Theater

Tuesday August 3, 2010

Casual diners surely noticed something unusual happening last night in downtown Royal Oak. Parking decks were full, cued cars sat waiting for elusive metered spots to open and swarms of excited people crowded street corners and spilled out of restaurants on Main Street.

Those in the know were attending The National’s sold-out show at Royal Oak Music Theater. The National, of Midwestern origins set this silver city afire. The band which has slowly but steadily ascended at the same time the record industry has imploded are on the verge of super-stardom. Last night’s show was proof that there will be no resistance.

Half of the set was smartly composed of infectious gems from High Violet - released in May. It is arguably the best record of 2010. The other half of the show was sprinkled with cult classics from Boxer (2007) and Alligator (2005) with two songs melded together from their sophomore effort, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003.)

Set List
1. Runaway
2. Anyone's Ghost
3. Bloodbuzz Ohio
4. Secret Meeting
5. Slow Show
6. Squalor Victoria
7. Afraid Of Everyone
8. All The Wine
9. Available/Cardinal Song
10. Racing Like A Pro
11. Conversation 16
12. Apartment Story
13. Ada
14. Abel
15. England
16. Fake Empire
17. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
18. Lemonworld
19. Mr. November
20. Terrible Love

Their music is an amalgamation of styles. At once mesmerizing and epic, it envelops the great guitar rock of Shoegaze (Ride) and recent Post-Punk Revival (Arcade Fire and The Killers.)

Singer Matt Berninger’s distinctive baritone vocal has been compared to Ian Curtis of Joy Division. I also hear Guy Chadwick of The House Of Love. His lyrics are his greatest gift and his delivery so believable the listener cannot help feeling empathetic. With lines like “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe” from Bloodbuzz Ohio and repeating couplets like “Didn’t want to be your ghost“ followed by the telling “But I don’t want anybody else” from Anyone’s Ghost the listener feels the ache that the singer surely intends. Matt flaps around stage elbows pinned to his sides in fits as if the emotions of the words that he’s singing are too difficult to physically contain. Interestingly, the band known to agonize over their recording sessions becomes something altogether different on stage. Confident, accomplished, even livelier. Bryan Devendorf, a John Lennon look-a-like, drives the songs with his creative drumming styles while the Dessner twins preternaturally play off each other’s complex and richly-laid guitar parts like the symbiotic coupling of Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper of The Church. This wall of sound is augmented by a delicate, somber horn section and violin. As if that isn’t enough the group knowingly uses the entire band to harmonize throughout their songs adding sweeping vistas to their sonic coup de grâce.

The packed house was well-versed and responded enthusiastically to new and old favorites. The set ending Fake Empire had the diverse crowd of 20-40 somethings cheering for more.

The apex of the show happened during the encore with Mr. November when Matt spontaneously ran up the side aisle to a mid way point, stood on top of the railing and egged the crowd on with the infectious chorus. He then jumped in and waded through his adoring fans never missing a word as he made his way back to the stage.

The near-hysterical audience was brought to their senses with the throbbing closer, Terrible Love. The band took their final bow and soon after the lights and house music came on signaling the end. Patrons left the building with contented smiles and buzzing about having witnessed something truly special.

In A Voice That Came From You and Me

Alpha Rev and Sara Bareilles at the Royal Oak Music Theatre on July 11, 2010

Alpha Rev hailing from Austin, Texas wowed a crowded Royal Oak Music theatre with a blend of shiny pop rock reminiscent of the best of Coldplay and Snow Patrol. The price was right for three acts at $25 and the all-ages show had patrons lining the block a few hours early to get the best spot to watch the show. The stage was crammed with three set of equipment to make the transition between bands as seamless as possible. Alpha Rev’s seven members still found room to move while they created soaring melodies, silky harmonies and rich layers with a cellist, frenetic violinist and keyboard player. Alpha Rev have been in heavy rotation on Detroit’s The River 93.9 most notably the title track from their latest offering, New Morning. They delivered a solid set of original material and left the crowd wanting more. The night before, they had played a free acoustic session at Detroit’s Hard Rock Café.

Sara Bareilles came next and wasted no time wooing the audience, opening with her biggest hit to date, Love Song. The ever savvy Ms. B filmed the audience and band with a hand-held camera upon entering and leaving the stage; a likely inclusion in her infamous video updates

Video 1: Sara walking out on stage at Royal Oak Music Theater

Video 2: Sara recaps Royal Oak concert

Video 3: Sara walking around the streets of Royal Oak

After Love Song with the crowd firmly in hand, she launched into new material from her forthcoming album, Kaleidoscope Heart, which is slated for release on September 7th. New songs like the punchy, first single King of Anything and the album’s centerpiece, Uncharted, are of a similar vein as her first record, Little Voice, and were enthusiastically received by the crowd. Her band was tight and masterfully delivered another new track, the tasty doo-wop-styled Gonna Get Over You.

As Don McLean sings about Dylan stealing Elvis’ crown in his classic song America Pie, Sara Bareilles has rightfully inherited her tiara from another Sarah; Ms. McLachlan. Bareilles is cultivating her predominantly tween through college-aged audience with a mixture of attitude and vulnerability. Songs like the cheeky Vegas and the set-ending solo performance of Gravity resonated deeply. She is sure to return to Detroit in support of Kaleidoscope Heart; next time as the headliner.

The Who What Where When Why, and How!

I've always been a music fan.  I have loved music from an early age and love to discover new music.  I enjoy meeting people who are also passionate about music.

Over the years, I've written articles about new album releases and concerts; first, in fan magazines and later in artist web forums . More recently I've started freelancing in on-line music sites and blogs.

However, I've never consolidated these reviews and articles in one place.  So that is what this is. 

I hope you enjoy what I have to say and hopefully we will have interesting discussions and lively debates about music.  And if we're really lucky, we'll discover artists and songs we have yet to hear.

Visit often, leave your comments frequently, and have fun. This is a collaborative, collective effort.