Tonight I am putting on our first show in the restored Ivywild School gym, the urban renewal brewery project in downtown Colorado Springs. Today dawned grey and rainy, and tonight will be perfect to curl up with a pint of Bristol’s seasonal Oktoberfest brew and listen to some stories and music.
Davy Rothbart is headlining – the founder of FOUND Magazine and contributor to This American Life. He’ll be sharing stories from FOUND Magazine and from his book, My Heart Is An Idiot. The review on TheRumpus.net says this book “collects 16 essays that read like early Jack Kerouac, if you substituted Charlie Parker for Dr. Dre. Rothbart is boozily looking for love in all the wrong places, hitch-hiking, sleeping on couches in cities across America, dreaming of becoming a writer and romanticizing nearly everything in sight, often leaving him bereft.” Reminds me of this Billy Collins poem.
Here he is, hangin’ out with my man Dave:
The show starts tonight at 7pm, with the first supporting artist being one of my favorite professors at Colorado College (where I work). Idris Goodwin is a hip-hop scholar, spoken word artist, and playwright (“How We Got On,” his play about the genesis of hip-hop adoration in a small middle-America town, is one of the best things I have seen in a while). In addition to having been on HBO’s Def Poetry, HE ALSO HE WAS ON SESAME STREET.
After Idris, one of my most-beloved local musicians, The Changing Colors will be playing. Chapel session alums, Conor Bourgal and friends have released a stunningly lovely new record this year with Joan & The King. It’s a record that is redolent with autumnal layers of beauty:
TICKETS ARE HERE (or at the door), only $10. I hope to see you there; I am genuinely excited for this show and for this new creative space in Colorado.
I spent last week driving across a dusty swath of the American West, from Colorado through Wyoming, to Yellowstone and Montana, trawling the feet of the Grand Tetons and down through Utah and the red canyons. The first night, I stopped in Denver when I realized I had forgotten to bring along Muchacho, the newest record from Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck). I bought it at a record store a few blocks off the highway, filled the gas tank, and set back out as the sun set. I listened to it more than a dozen times on my roadtrip, voraciously, front to back and then through some more.
Muchacho is squally and dirt-streaked, it’s threadbare and greedy, it’s weary and pugnacious, and it is the most perfect soundtrack for that drive. Those vacant miles on the road gave me lots of time to think all of those big, unspun thoughts that cannibalize each other and themselves, unhinging their jaws to swallow their own tails and bring us back where we started. This album does the same.
This record wrestles with divergent, simultaneous truths about the brokenness and the bruises. “I am not some broken thing,” Houck howls pointedly in the second track, the stunning “Song For Zula” (which will be my song of the year), but two short songs later he is singing this simple line, that absolutely breaks my heart every time he says it:
“And now you’re telling me my heart’s sick /
…And I’m telling you I know.”
It’s exactly that messiness (and the direct engagement with it) that spills out of this record to draw me in, underneath the timeless country veneer, under the old-time two-stepping and the lonely desert songs. Everything is tangled; everything is fucked up and bleeding, aching and glowing in the summer.
I keep furrowing my brow as I swim around in this tremendous record. It’s unclear as you work through Houck’s songs if he is the cage or the one being caged, if he is the bloody actor or the stage, if he needs to fix himself up to come and be with you, or is a mewing newborn, just seeing colors for the first time. Is it love that’s a killer come to call from some awful dream, or is he himself the one who would kill you with his bare hands if he were free? I find it fascinating. I read his words like I read poems, letting the unsettledness cling and press on me. They keep knocking me out on this album.
“Terror In The Canyon” is one of the most conflicted songs on the album, and I love it for that, Houck being a thousand different contradictory things from one line of the song to the next. Lately all I want to do in my favorite relationships is to plumb those tumultuous volcanic waters inside of us, where we pull in seven different ways and we are all contained inside one skin. “And I’m not so sorry for the heartwreck,” Houck sings, presumedly to the person he’s just left, “but for each season left unblessed – the new terror in the canyons, the new terror in our chests.” I read something parallel this week from John O’Donohue: “The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown.” I feel like something in that new terror might actually be a blessing, and Houck knows it and I know it.
I hit a few of those massive, glorious late-summer rainstorms out on the plains, my favorite one at sunset whose aftermath is pictured up at the top of this post. It was during those times that I felt like I was right in the middle of the lyrics: “Between the shadow and the storm, a little pup was being born / a little whelp without his horns — o my, o my.” This is an album that’s right there in the bloody genesis struggle between the shadows and the wild, humid, electric storm. Each footfall slips first into one realm, then just as quickly slides into the other. There are so many vulnerable moments of beauty on this album that make me gasp, and so many punches to the face.
The biggest, rambliest, most sharply tangled song on this album is perfectly named “The Quotidian Beasts.” The song starts rhythmic and bright: the morning breaking, the drawing of a bath. Houck tells an allegory of a beast with claws, with familiar black eyes (depression?); he knew she was coming and she was here at last.
I said “It’s you took your claws,
you slipped ‘em under my skin
There’s parts that got outside honey
I want to put ‘em back in
We’ve been playing like children, honey
now we’ll play it like men
Those parts that got outside
I’m gonna put them back in.”
By the end of this struggle of a fable, those quotidian, daily beasts have transformed like Gremlins exposed to water, and are now something altogether different and terrifying. The song ends after seven minutes as a huge Zeppelinesque epic that has exploded into a fire that just burned your house down. It is the perfect summation of what Houck is doing on this record, over and over again.
The first and last tracks on the record are seamless twins, the opening track “An Invocation, An Introduction” and the last “A Koan, An Exit.” The songs run along the same riverbed (making it easy to let the album loop back to track one after the last song finishes, like the beast that eats its own tail) but the more I listen to it, the more I realize how vastly different the last song is, how it feels so much more weary. After all the yelps and the fistfights, some of the brambles have been broken off. The kitchen is scattered with broken dishes. We’re rattling our instruments and raising our voices, and there are these stunning glints and sunflares that glow, but the speakers are blown.
It started golden, gleaming, resplendent. It ends a beautiful ramshackle mess. And we’ll do it again tomorrow, and next year.
A few hours ago, Josiah from The Head and The Heart and I were in a parking garage in Boulder, finishing cigarettes and coffee, and he sang this plangent and visceral new song for me. I don’t know if it’s finished, but there is something terrific & pure in the ephemerality this afternoon.
Let’s Be Still, the sophomore album from The Head and The Heart, is out October 15.
Pickwick is a magnetic, six-person band from Seattle that draws people to stop what they are doing and listen, to pause in their conversations and move closer to the stage. Ever since the very first time I saw frontman Galen Disston sing like a man possessed in front of this generous and tightly-wound band of musicians, I was completely taken.
The first songs I heard from them were soulful, old-feeling jams like “Hacienda Motel” and “Blackout” that still give me great joy (and a healthy amount of toe-tapping/hip-swaying). Seeing them live is akin to a tsunami — we all broke the stage together at Doe Bay Fest 2011, and that was a tremendous moment. But the longer I have followed these guys, the more I notice the darker currents swirling up and the complexities emerge.
Last weekend Pickwick headlined Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party, and I loved the reactions. The Stranger wrote about their set, marveling over how this band is not the “polite blue-eyed soul” that lots of us associate with the Pickwick name; the author is right that there is a taut thread of shadow running right through the bloody center of this band, and in the live setting it burns palpably. Perhaps this chapel session evokes especially strongly the bonecrushing post-SXSW fatigue, but I love the darker currents here, the layered heaviness that allows these songs to take on a new shape than I had noticed before.
Also, that Rufus Wainwright cover? Get on out of town.
As always, you can download all the tracks for free below (zip file also at the bottom), and make sure to check out all 24 of the past sessions on the right sidebar.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #25: PICKWICK Recorded at Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
St. Patrick’s Day 2013, nighttime
I notice hands, all the time. Right now thinking of each of my friends, I can picture their hands. To me, they are like faces but almost more expressive. As you watch these videos of Galen, you might also be mesmerized by the hands that alternately seem to channel the spirits, and knead themselves as he kinesthetically works all the songs out of his lungs. His hands elegantly interpret the songs in a subconscious complement that adds to the songs these guys orchestrate.
We recorded this session on a Sunday night, with all the shadows gathering, our bellies full of the Irish shepherd’s pie I’d made and the Guinness we had paired it with. It was quiet in the church, after their long hot bright week at SXSW. I was half-expecting Pickwick to blow the roof off the place as they had done in all the big, loud, shiny halls I had seen them in before. The restraint was instead a welcome, haunting oasis. This song gave me goosebumps, from these eerie opening loops – and I still get them now listening back.
The unsettled, beautiful feeling that this song left me with was similar to this Werkmeister Harmoniak movie I keep trying to watch. It’s like swimming up to the surface in a confusing dream.
Halls of Columbia
Starting with the chimey chopsticks piano duet of Cassady and Michael (watch video), this song is the closest my hips got to swaying, even as it is one of the most wrenching songs in their repertoire – seeming to wrestle with spirituality and our roots. As this song congeals, I find myself noticing the instincts of this band in the give and take.
Foolish Love (Rufus Wainwright)
I always ask the bands if there is someone else’s song that they would like to end the chapel session with, and most have something in mind — sometimes an old friend that they cover often, sometimes a wonderfully spur of the moment contrivance. This cover of the first half of the first song on Rufus Wainwright’s haunting self-titled 1998 debut album was definitely an off-the-cuff experiment gone blissfully right. It is uncanny how Galen’s voice hovers over the water, and shimmers strongly through the ether in the same way that Rufus’s does.
UPCOMING CHAPEL SESSIONS:
In case you haven’t been following along with my adventures on “The Instagram,” we have six more incredible chapel sessions in the bag that we are working through final audio production for, and that you can look forward to in the coming months: -Will Johnson
-Vandaveer (with some help from Ark Life on a tune) -David Wax Museum
Summer has us on a bit of a slow-down (WHAT’S NEW) but watch out for what’s next as we get through the backlog because holy hell have we taken some fine folks through that chapel. I’m a lucky woman to get to share them with you.
[audio production from the fine gents at Blank Tape Records, video and stills by the magnificent Kevin Ihle]
I am back, relaxed, from Timber! and working on getting the Pickwick Chapel Session ready to post, also wrestling out a think-piece about cynicism & music (of course I am) that may or may not ever see the light …but really all I want to do today is watch this video on repeat.
I want The Roots to be my backing band in everyday life. Everything would be so much better.
PHOX is set to arrive on my doorstep in Colorado Springs to kick off their tour on Wednesday night — they are playing a free show that I’ve booked them at in the cool new urban renewal / revival space at Ivywild School, in the Principal’s Office Bar. Please come be delinquent! And be wowed.
Another chance to see them will be along with 417 other incredible bands at the Underground Music Showcase (UMS) this weekend, otherwise known as one of Colorado’s very best music weekends all year. I’ll be there!
This week I find myself in a part of the world that’s just ri-goddamn-diculous, as my friend Sailor Jay would say. I whiled away this afternoon swimming and paddling in a kayak on Alice Lake, a little sapphire in the valley’s hand out in British Columbia. As I paddled, and listened to my paddle dripping water onto my legs and the waves lapping against the boat, I watched hundreds of little cerulean blue dragonflies flit and hover and sun themselves. I glided silently under where the mossy trees dip down to touch the water and make a natural cave of leaves.
The song that I started singing out loud for myself was “When You Are Still” by David Wax Museum (and not just because they are playing at my house on Thursday, nor to set up this post)…
This is a band that is wonderfully different from anyone I have hosted before, as their music blends this cool Appalachian-folk style with Mexican Son music. David Wax plays a traditional Mexican guitar called a jarana, while his musical partner Suz Slezak plays fiddle and a donkey jawbone called a quijada. This will be the first time that a band has experimented with animal bones in my house, sooooo….. come for that.
You’ve heard their music, at minimum, on several of my seasonal mixes — “Born With A Broken Heart” to start the springtime, “The Least I Can Do” in late lazy summer, and “When You Are Still” for the autumn. You should also definitely get my favorite full-length from them, Everything Is Saved. They shipped some ahead to my house, so get one Thursday.
Opening the night will be Denver’s own amazing Chimney Choir! In their own words, “Chimney Choir conjures colorful avant-pop by mixing old time acoustic instruments with droning synths, junk percussion and 3 part harmonies in a theatrical show.” I love junk percussion; Imma start saving cans now.
One last rad recording of them, so you know what we’re in for: I still love this line, “Some of us come with new hearts, most of us come with used hearts — baby, why do you look so sad?”
So in case you were not around cool humans a few weeks ago, you might not have heard that The Replacements are reforming to play three shows this summer at the Riot Fest (!!!). I am not a rioty person, but I do love me some Paul Westerberg in all of his many forms, and this news came out of a wonderful left field to surprise most of us. Even though we don’t know who else is in the band this go around (other than Tommy Stinson, and, maybe, Prince) — IT’S THE REPLACEMENTS.
I was trying to explain The Replacements to my intern (again, with the intern. This kid is getting double his unpaid-work-hours money) and I used words like “sloppy but melodic” and “like, this visceral rawness with classic rock n’ roll underpinnings.” I used the word “punk” a few times; something about the Beatles; we talked about the dangers of alcohol overuse. I think we both went home from work that day better human beings, and now he has a new band to discover.
Back in 2006 I posted a pirate’s treasure trove of Replacements and Westerberg rarities and b-sides that a reader sent me. In honor of the Riot Fest news, and to announce the ticket giveaway I get to do for it, here they are again below, all re-upped.
TICKET GIVEAWAY!I have two pairs of 2-day passes to the Denver stop of Riot Fest to give away to Fuel/Friends readers. It’s happening September 21 and 22 on a farm-looking place outside of town; I’ll also be going and probably camping, which should be delightful.
TO ENTER TO WIN: leave a comment telling me why you should win a pair of tickets, and I will pick two winners in a week or so.
Name: Heather Browne Location: Colorado, originally by way of California Giving context to the torrent since 2005.
"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel." —Hunter S. Thompson
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