August 9, 2011

Guest post: Lollapalooza 2011, according to Adam

I couldn’t go to Lollapalooza this year, despite my preview post they featured. Not only was I ill-equipped to fund another music trip this summer, but I am frankly not sure of my fortitude to handle Chicago in August, despite the great lineup.

So in this case, I call in my minions, and this minion this year was the marvelous Adam Sharp who writes the Songs For The Day blog (a daily must-read). His musical tastes and mine almost perfectly align, and there are few things more thrilling than meeting your identical music twin. Let’s see what Adam loved.

by Adam Sharp

There are things you simply cannot prepare for, and I now know that Lollapalooza is one such thing. No amount of hydrating, planning who you are going to see or anything else can prepare you for the mammoth beast that is 115 acres of music filled with 90,000 sweaty people each day checking out bands playing 8 different stages. Prepared or not, I went to Lollapalooza to have an amazing time, and that’s pretty much exactly what I had as the skyscrapers and Lake Michigan provided the perfect backdrop for the great music being played. It was a hell of an experience, filled with some incredible moments that I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget. Now that I have fully replenished all the missing water and nutrients in my body let’s talk about what happened in Chicago.


Wye Oak
Wye Oak was the first band I saw at the festival, and I found their set to be a great way to kick off the entire weekend. Watching Wye Oak it struck me how much your appreciation grows for their music when you see them live. Jenn Wasner is as skilled as they come with the guitar, and Andy Stack is incredibly impressive as he drums with one hand and uses his left on a myriad of synths and other machines. Despite coming out and having some audio trouble (first a broken amp, then a broken guitar pedal), the rather large early crowd was totally behind them and they managed to rip through their set in most impressive fashion.

Foster The People

Foster the People
I remember when Heather wrote about the ridiculously large crowd for Foster the People at Sasquatch, and I was pretty interested to see if that would happen again at Lollapalooza. Um, yeah. That HAPPENED. About a half hour before the set started there had to have been 10-15,000 people waiting, and by the time they started that number grew to the point of being outrageous. They delivered a really enjoyable, incredibly sweaty show in the mid-afternoon heat to a completely adoring crowd, noting in the middle of their set that this was easily the largest crowd they had ever played to. It’s always nice when you can tell a band can’t believe what’s happening, and you most assuredly got that feeling from Foster the People.


I’ve really enjoyed Cults’ debut LP released earlier this summer, but given the secrecy behind the band, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. Cults came out and delivered an extremely entertaining set of their dark, doo-woppy tinged pop music, with lead singer Madeline Follin proving herself to be plenty charismatic. The crowd was into it, dancing and crowding together trying to get closer. The set was a really great way to cool down in the middle of the day.

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats
In a word, Mountain Goats were unbelievable. Heather had been (loudly) telling me of their greatness in the lead up to Lollapalooza and they certainly proved that she wasn’t lying. I think the most striking thing about the set was the amount of fun everyone seemed to be having (including the band) as lead singer John Darnielle wove exceptionally personal and dark stories. The crowd and the band (including Darnielle) had smiles on their faces throughout, and you could tell that this intense music was resonating in a cathartic way for so many in the crowd. The set ended on a high, with Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak (Darnielle introduced her as a member of the band who has put out the best record of the year so far) coming out to help lead through an incredible rendition of ‘This Year.’ The crowd ate up every minute of it, shouting along every word feverishly and giving an applause that was a borderline roar at the end. It was the single best moment of Friday for me.


J Roddy Walston & The Business

J Roddy Walston & The Business
J Roddy Walston & The Business are a group of bad, bad men, and they were playing Lollapalooza to make sure everyone was well aware of that fact. I hadn’t gotten terribly familiar with the music beforehand, but it didn’t matter: there was no way to not feel the energy of the crowd grow as the band rollicked through their set of dirty, southern-tinged rock and roll. It was a superb way to start the day, and judging by the constantly expanding crowd during the 45 minutes they played, lots of other people found that to be true as well.


You know when you want a band to be awesome live and then they are? That’s pretty much exactly how Typhoon’s set went, with them absolutely rocking a large, loving crowd while barely fitting on the tiny stage they were afforded. From first note to last, it was pretty evident that Typhoon deserved a much larger stage (they had 13 members after all), with the crowd clapping along at all the right points (and batting around a ton of beach balls for good measure). It was really great to see that the word had gotten around about how special the band is. By the end of the set you could hear people talking about how great the performance was.

Fitz and the Tantrums
I had heard from a number of people that I needed to make it a priority to get to Fitz and the Tantrums, that I would have an immense amount of fun and it would be totally worth it to fight through the huge crowd. That was a huge understatement, as the band had the crowd dancing around from the get-go, with seemingly everyone in the crowd having a huge smile on their face. The ending to their set was perfect, with lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick stopping their hit, ‘Moneygrabber,’ right before the last chorus and forcing everyone (and seriously…10,000+ people did it) to squat down and then jump up and go insane as they played the last chorus. It was one of those moments I wasn’t expecting and it was certainly one of the most memorable moments of the entire festival for me.

Local Natives

Local Natives
This was the best performance of the festival in my eyes, as pretty much everything about it was perfect. I managed to squeeze all the way up to the front right of the stage, ending up with a great view of the band and the insanely large, eager crowd as the golden hour set in on Chicago. While the entire set was spot-on, there are two moments that stuck out for me. The first was when vocalist/guitarist/percussionist/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer dedicated ‘Airplanes’ to his mom, who I think was the woman who immediately leapt to her feet and yelled along all the words while dancing. It was a pretty special moment.

The second moment, my favorite moment of the entire festival, was during set closer ‘Sun Hands.’ As the sun was coming out from behind the clouds and the band got to the line ‘I want to lift my hands towards the sun,’ the entire crowd that I could see spontaneously lifted their hands up towards the setting sun, as the downtown skyscrapers provided a beautiful backdrop to the sea of hands. It was just one of those really perfect, incredible moments where music and life come together to produce something you won’t forget.

It was magnificent in every way imaginable.


I decided to take in the set from Beirut at a side stage instead of joining the crowds for the headliners, which turned out to be a rewarding choice. A large, enthusiastic group gathered as Beirut’s baroque stylings and Zach Condon’s rich voice filled the nighttime air with skyscrapers illuminated the backdrop. Beirut sounded wonderful, providing a relaxing, gorgeous ending to one of better days I can remember.


Lord Huron

Lord Huron
It’s a testament to Lord Huron’s growing success that they were able to draw a rather large crowd as the first band playing on Sunday morning. They delivered a great set, adding new depth to their songs and providing a terrific way to ease into a third day of heat and music. I had the added bonus of standing next to the bassist’s family, who were extremely nice and very proud, dancing, constantly exchanging smiles with him and letting those around us know they were his parents/sister. It was a neat, personal moment to witness.

Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr.
I spent a good deal of Sunday wandering around the grounds, trying to find something to catch my attention after Lord Huron, and coming up empty until Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. took the stage. I have enjoyed their new album all summer long, having seen them in a dive bar a few months ago and hoping their show would translate to a much larger venue. Judging by all the dancing, singing along and cheering it appears they did a great job of introducing themselves to an audience that was pretty large despite the main stage acts starting to get to the headliners. They are a boatload of fun, crowd size be damned.

Portugal. The Man
Honestly, I had gone to see Portugal. The Man because I was trying to camp out and get a great vantage point for the upcoming Explosions in the Sky set. While I was waiting though, I was treated to a few really great songs from Portugal. The Man, leading me to wonder why I hadn’t given them and their danceable psychedelic rock a shot earlier. (Editor’s note: they got all their stuff stolen after this set. Gah!). They had the crowd dancing, and seemed to be hitting their stride…

…. when on the horizon what looked like a full-on deathstorm started to show its face. I knew things were about to get serious when they started to take down the banners from the sides of the stages, and knew I needed to run like hell for cover. I called my sister (who lives on the north side of the city) and asked her about the weather, to which she replied ‘You mean it’s not pouring there yet?’ So, I trudged as fast as possible across the massive field, making it up the stairs to the main concourse area just as the first raindrops turned quickly into a torrential monsoon. I ended up ducking into a tent manned by a really kind volunteer lady and filled with an odd bunch of people who I was pretty sure had fake British accents. It wasn’t exactly how I envisioned my Lollapalooza adventure ending, but in retrospect it was kinda fun and memorable.

Some other notes:

- I was introduced to the service provided by LotuSIGN during J Roddy Walston and the Business’ set for the first time. They are an incredible group of interpreters that sign select sets during the festival for the deaf, but they do far more than just sign. Each song turns into a sort of performance art to go along with the lyrics, with the interpreter playing air drums or air guitar at all the right moments. It was something I hadn’t considered, and even though I am not deaf I found it entirely enjoyable and fantastic to watch.

- I used to think people recording shows on their cell phone were annoying, but during the festival I found something far worse: at multiple sets I saw people holding up their iPads (or other tablets) to record. That’s not okay, kids.

- Passing through the area before Noah and the Whale took the stage, I notice they were pumping what sounded like a rock orchestra version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ over the speakers. The entire crowd sang it, clapping along and cheering as though Queen was up there performing it. It was like a festival version of Wayne’s World.

- One of the really awesome things about the festival was that they had tremendous food choices. I always try to avoid buying food and such at these types of events, but when a vendor board shows me that I can make a meal out of a Lobster Corndog and Parmesan Truffle Popcorn, well, I start reaching for the money. It was as delicious as it sounds. Actually, more. Way more.

- I’m thinking that the double rainbow (and throngs of people yelling ‘DOUBLE RAINBOW! OH MY GOD!) that showed up after the storm was Mother Nature trying to redeem herself a bit for the chaos she caused. While it didn’t fully makeup for how bummed I was about missing out on Explosions in the Sky, it was a pretty cool moment to end a weekend that was perfect as it was.

June 29, 2011

distance has no way of making love understandable

A few days after I got back from my own soul-refreshing weekend in the stunning musical hamlet of Telluride, my good friend and music buddy Dainon took off from Florida for the Solid Sound Festival in western Massachusetts, curated by our beloved Wilco. This is a festival I have wanted to go to since I heard of its inception last year, but the timing is never quite right.

So when Dainon wrote out this lovely reflection for me about the festival, I decided I had to post them up as a guest review for the weekend-that-wasn’t for me. It’s almost as good as being there. Enjoy.

PS – damn my friends can write purdy!

How Wilco saved the music festival.

by guest contributor Dainon Moody

At some point last year, I took it upon myself to swear off music festivals. The reason? I got old. My back hurt too much and they were way too long and camping in a hailstorm sure sucked on toast. I would no longer dedicate chunks of my calendar and paycheck and the soft parts of my feet to proving my worth as a music listener. I’d had enough! Festivals were the blockbuster films of the music industry and all I wanted was more dialogue, less in-my-face effects and a quality story.

And then Doe Bay sold me with a single recap video. And then I learned I could take a water taxi from the airport to the Newport Folk Festival for a whole 10 hard-earned dollars and have Gillian Welch offer up some lullabies. And then Wilco went and reinvented how a few days of music and celebration ought to happen, simply because they’ve reached the point in their career that they could and can. They built it last year and the Wilco fanatics came in droves. They did it again this year, it poured down big buckets of rain the entire time and the Wilco fanatics smiled Cheshire grins, bought $2 garbage bag ponchos, sang along and danced in the mud puddles.

So, what I’m saying is, logic came into play. Viewing myself as one of those highly sensible sorts, it made sense, in the absence of the band having a new album out (three months!), to go see them perform a couple times in as many days on their own terms, along with a handful of their more musically-inclined friends. It made sense for them to finally have their own label and that they’d chosen an art museum to play in and that they did so in the quiet picturesque Mayberry of a town of North Adams, MA. Why not, right?

So I did it. And it was just a pleasure to see Jeff Tweedy give us a couple of the best shows I’ve been a witness to. Most tender “Reservations” ever heard. Loudest “Misunderstood” ever displayed. And, in what may be one of my favorite Wilco moments ever, having the microphone give out just before the end of “Radio Cure” on account of a thunder clap, causing all the thousands of wet attendees there to scream out the ending when Tweedy’s couldn’t be heard, no prompting whatsoever —“Distance has no way of making love understandable!” — it made for a long, beautiful moment. It even caused him to respond with, “You know, maybe that ought to happen more often.”

Also, can I just say that there are few more satisfying things in live music (and especially while taking in the many varied sounds that make up the collective that Wilco is) than experiencing Nels Cline making his guitar speak? Some songs in the catalog exist simply as bookends to his guitar solo; the singing, the drumming, the lights are simply there to house his shaking and squeezing the right sounds out of it.

When there wasn’t music, there was art (live silkscreening, installations throughout the MASS MoCA, The Impossible Project wandering around), where there wasn’t art, there was really good food (vegetarians openly rejoiced) and, when there wasn’t any of that, there was a grizzled old volunteer of a band follower to tell you exactly when he first saw Wilco and details for that and the seven shows to follow that glorious moment in time.

Of course, there were other bands, too. There was Philadelphia’s Purling Hiss (where three Wilco members were quickly spotted in the crowd), Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion stomp-clapping and singing and playing acoustically on a raised wooden indoor stage, the brand of happiness preaching that is JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, Liam Finn with dual thundering drums (Glenn Kotche helping out on a second), Jamie Lidell offering up his wry humor with his rendition of “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” making its way round the raindrops and The Handsome Family plunking their way through engaging tunes of suicide, drinking too much wine on Christmas and lovelorn puddles (yes, really).

There was more, too. There was “California Stars” playing at the ticket booth. There were kids flying homemade kites up and down hills, bits of cotton floating through the air like lazy snowflakes. There were clouds so close and surrounding the area that it felt like we may as well be resting atop a big, cushy pile of them. Do I digress? Yes. And purposefully so.

In essence, what Jeff Tweedy and his cohorts did was not just play the pied pipers to see who would gather around their feet, but they reinvented the festival as we’ve come to know it. They took the parts that they didn’t much care for and improved on them, offering sandpaper for the roughest edges. This wasn’t so much a rock concert as it was a carefully created community, one that lasted a few glorious days long.

If I were the demanding sort, I’d want the band to know that, having booked a flight (a solo flight, no less) to Albany, renting a car and driving the couple hours to North Adams, sleeping in the car in a forest after the downpour didn’t allow me to camp any other way for two nights and then braving lightning and a damaged camera while watching them, well, I’d want them to acknowledge that I’d earned some new stripes as a fan. That I deserved some kind of stars-next-to-my-damn-name recognition, be it a nod from the stage or whatever. But I’m not much the demanding sort. And there are so many others that’d done pretty much the same.

I came, I filled myself up with the goodness of their creation and left a happier, more fulfilled fan of their music and the way they chose to present it to the collected masses and, in effect, the rest of the world. And, as long as other festivals follow suit, I’ll continue to change my misguided ways, promise. I just hope this bit of an extended Thank You card suffices. Wilco, you did good.

Handsome Family

Purling Hiss

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August 14, 2010

Lollapalooza 2010 shines


Lollapalooza took over the massive lakeside green of Grant Park last weekend for its sixth year as a stationary festival in Chicago. I was unable to get myself to The Prairie State, and sent two talented writer-photographers to cover it for Fuel/Friends: Dainon and Kathleen. I ached with jealousy at their text and cell-phone pic updates all weekend long since it sounded like an incredible lineup.

Let them tell you about what rocked at this year’s Lollapalooza.


Dainon: The sunshine and subsequent sunburn was as inescapable as the flip flop abrasions, the beer tents at every turn and enough music-filled stages to satisfy the most ADHD-addled music listener, but Lollapalooza delivered on its promises. It was about as sold out as festivals come (to the tune of 80,000 happy faces, by some estimates) and every band these eyes saw actually started on time, and everyone who offered, “Hello, Lollapalooza!” into a microphone was cheered and celebrated like crazy. It may as well have been its own hometown city, true enough. That’s the kind of pride that came along with its mention.

Kathleen: Friday dawned steamy and warm, but not overbearingly hot – which was incredible, given the fact that I naturally associate summer music with blinding melanoma-inducing heat. Instead I trekked over to my very first show, which was the Washington D.C based group, These United States. I have seen this band many times before, and yet my dancing feet don’t seem to remember to get tired of them. Their thumping, surging, pedal steel laced rock and roll created an optimism for the rest of the day in the committed crowd (commitment at a festival means getting out of bed before the headliner).

These United States

I wish I’d caught their whole set, but one of the issues I have with new places is my complete lack of direction. I circumnavigated Grant Park (approximately the size of the Earth) completely before finding my entrance. I actually felt myself perk up when I got to the These United States show, and I’m pretty sure I owe my consciousness and perkiness to those gents and their predilection for expansive, raucous rock.

D: Jeff Tweedy showed up during Mavis Staples’ set on Friday (something I’d sorta banked on possibly happening, considering he’s producing her next album), playing acoustic guitar for a couple songs while she sang lines only she could get away with in that setting, ones like “Only the Lord knows and He ain’t you” and “I’m gettin’ too close to heaven to turn back now.” I think Tweedy grinned wider and more than I’ve seen him do in the three full Wilco concerts.

The Walkmen

K: The Walkmen seemed like such a throwback to me. Wearing nice slacks and ties, I almost thought they’d launch into some 1950s era doo-wop. Instead, I was met with a howl so full of conviction, I turned to the people next to me to see if anyone else was surprised. Instead, most people seemed to be expecting it, craving it. The Walkmen made a show out of rambling and reverb, out of bare-bones music that the band members seem to get lost in. I felt a mystery in their show, a depth like if they kept playing for five more hours it would end up in a place totally foreign to where it started.

The Strokes
strokes 2


K: Closing the night Friday with their first show on American soil in four years, The Strokes seemed to be a last vestige of true, epic rock and roll. Julian Casablancas entered, five minutes late, wearing sunglasses and a studded leather jacket. He put his foot possessively on a front speaker and launched into the fiery guitar licks with a coolness that make the Strokes what they are. Their show was incendiary. I actually felt a fire in my belly that held in a tight little ball, expanding to a blaze whenever the poised melodies would break out into all hell, filling the night with revolutionary, explosive sound. The cheering blended right in to each song, people chanting along to Casablancas’ droning voice (myself included). It was anthemic, a show that somehow reflected and validated all the passionate air guitar that I’ve been perfecting since childhood, just for moments like this.

strokes 3

D: When The Strokes took the stage, Lady Gaga was doing her thing way over on the other end of beautiful Grant Park. While a quick two or three glances in her direction revealed that people were determined to take in her set, even if they were a mile away and stepping on tiptoes to see the big screens, The Strokes forced us to look back fondly at the early 2000s, when their promise was far greater than their outcome. It didn’t rock us as hard as it felt absolutely comfortable to hear song after familiar song. Hearing the line “I want to be forgotten, and I don’t want to be reminded” sounded boozy and smirky and blurry, as it should have. It seems they’ve gotten over the whole buzz-band notion and allowed themselves to settle into their black leather and sunglasses and skin some more. This is a good— and maybe even great—thing.



K: Skybox is a boatload of local Chicago fun. It’s like they captured the essence of what makes me dance in front of people and put it in Tim Ellis’ voice. From the very get-go of their early Saturday set, I was smiling and jumping and making a general fool of myself to their complex, rich pop songs. It definitely helped that all four of them were dancing too, bouncing around stage and beaming in the same key as their relentlessly catchy tunes.


D: Once upon a time, I only knew one song by Austin’s Harlem. That song was “Friendly Ghost” and, every time it poked its head out of my shuffling jukebox of a laptop, it pounded itself on the chest like Tarzan and stomped on a bass drum pedal, and forced dancing feet. Their 35-minute set was one of the only ones I lasted all the way through for, partly because I thought I’d see a fistfight break out before it ended (sadly, it didn’t). It was all filled up with raw, short blasts of that unfiltered, unpolished, sweaty energy stuff. I’d venture they put more power into that single show than most bands do in a career. And you can take that nugget of truth to the bank and scrawl it on an album sticker. It’s deserved high praise, too. They may not be able to keep that going and they may burn out quick as they came, but at least they burned bright on that Saturday morning.

K: Harlem does not come from Harlem, I found out. It actually surprised me, what with the gritty, dirty rock they pump out, and their lack of conventional on stage niceties. These guys didn’t bother tuning in the beginning, argued with each other at the end of every final guitar lick, and yet…they were electric. It was a strange, sort of surreal experience to hear this teetering, crazed garage rock, the kind where the drumming sounds manic and the bass thumps unapologetically underneath spontaneous-sounding riffs that take over even a wide open festival ground. They absolutely commanded my attention, and drew me in as I thrummed from song to song with them, painfully aware of how straight-edge I am in the face of real rock and roll attitude. If they had been selling leather jackets anywhere near there, I would have bought one immediately.


K: I had been waiting see Warpaint since my braggart friends returned with tales of psychedelic girl rock from SXSW this spring. I was not disappointed. Looking like kids playing dress up in Mardi Gras masks and tie dye shirts, these four women launched themselves into their set with a level of commitment that made me feel as though I was sucked into a vortex of melting, earthy music. Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman have these liberated vocals that just wrangle audiences. What shocked me was their floating, ethereal sound was still full of sharp edges, spikes, and dips. It was anything but just a pretty face. They also skipped right over their single from their debut album Exquisite Corpse, “Billie Holiday.” You know it’s a great show when they blow by the song everyone knows and no one seems to miss it.

The National

K: I hadn’t seen The National before Lollapalooza. I hadn’t seen them, but the number of times I’ve listened to, cried to, felt to The National far outstrips almost all other bands for me. So I practically launched myself across Grant Park to be one of the first people in front of the Playstation stage. Matt Berninger already had a green bottle of white wine chilling in a big plastic bowl on the stage, and the setlist taped where my zoom lens could find it. And just like it told me, when the guys strolled out, they launched into “Runaway.” Berninger has a baritone that socks me in the windpipe with its haunted depths every time. Live it was even better. I was rooted to my spot, blown away by the shifting, glowing soundscapes they were able to use to fill the enormous Grant Park.

national wine

Berninger carried himself with the grace of someone from faraway and long ago, like he should have a maroon leather wingback chair and a roaring fire at all times. They completely flattened me with their devastating performance, both tight and yet not the same as listening to the record. It was real and tangible, and offered a jagged edge that made the dangerous, sometimes downright mean, themes of their songs come to living, breathing life. I have to say, as I pulled myself away from the emptied stage, I felt sad and satisfied at the same time – as though I could not have handled more soul stretching, but that I hungered for more, like a musical masochism. Extreme? Possibly. Don’t psychoanalyze me, I didn’t write the music.

national 2

[Dainon’s take on The National is here. It was so good he needed an entire post. And this happened to a friend of mine and his kiddo – pretty rad.]


The Antlers

K: It was raining on Sunday morning, but that didn’t stop my determination to see The Antlers perform in muddy Grant Park. So I slapped a plastic bag over my camera and secretly wished the park was connected by a network of Slip ‘N Slides. Though that wish wasn’t granted, I did get to witness the painfully beautiful Antlers set. Antlers deliver the same shiver and ache on stage that they do on their records. Their sparse presence on the massive stage lent itself well to their songs, which talk about death and loneliness and layers in life. Granted, not the usual festival fare, but it was so fitting to be standing in the silver drizzle listening to songs about real things sung with such passion. It was grounding, and a fantastic breath before diving into what would end up being a hot, humid day.

The Ike Reilly Assassination
ike reilly

K: The Ike Reilly Assassination is a band I first heard about through this same blog, and I was so excited to go see the Chicago group tear my socks off and incite me to jump up and down. And sonically, they did just that. Unafraid to be loud, and delighting in having the whole audience sing along to “Valentine’s Day in Juarez,” I felt like the stage was filled with my crazy uncles at Thanksgiving dinner. Not the annoying crazy ones that pinch you, but the fun ones that you know might be a little drug addled from younger days with unforgettable stories that they just might tell you if you keep the brandy coming. The Ike Reilly Assassination put so much energy into their rollicking show, I would be surprised if they could walk afterward. It was the kind of performance where drum sticks crack and guitar strings snap, crackle, pop, and everyone’s smiling about all the fun coming out of it.

Mumford and Sons

mumford 3

mumford 2

K: I’ve wanted to see Mumford and Sons ever since their release of Sigh No More last year. I’ve yearned to see them. While I was waiting, along with the rest of the people in attendance at Lollapalooza it seemed, I was already getting a little giddy thinking of their joyful harmonies and liberated banjo rolls. A moment after Marcus Mumford (and people who are not, technically, his sons) took the stage, they swept me away immediately with the title track off the aforementioned album.

mumford 4

Their music builds, it swells, and it takes me along until it all crashes into runaway melodies that seem composed of innocent wildness. Even better was watching their faces, because they mirrored ours. They had a shining newness on stage that showed no hint of the pretension that could come along with such success. Their sound filled me up from the inside instead of sweeping around me; it held me and moved me, and yes, I did get tears in my eyes. There is such a fearlessness in Mumford and Sons. When they perform it is intimate and real and consuming. It left me breathless.

Frightened Rabbit
frightened rabbit 2

frightened rabbit

K: Frightened Rabbit is an eviscerating experience. Hailing from the gray moors of Scotland, Scott Hutchison’s lonely wail can transform into a heartwrenching, cracking scream in a single turn of phrase. Standing amidst a huge crowd of people who knew the words to all their songs, just as I did, was comforting but strange. For such cry-into-your-whiskey music, it seemed I had a lot of comrades who related. I loved when Hutchison would abandon words all together and throw in extra howls and punctuated with guttural “oh”s, like the cracks went too deep to express with simple human language. And yet, people danced. That’s the amazing thing about Frightened Rabbit for me, they revel in the muck of life. They yell and scream about the things that go the deepest, and do so in a way that makes you throw out your limbs and give yourself to the simple act of moving. Not forward, not backward, just moving so you know you’re not a bag of sand.

Arcade Fire
arcade fire

arcade fire 2

K: Closing the festival, Arcade Fire was a massive conglomeration of complete mayhem on stage – people switching instruments, lights flashing, sensory overload. And yet it all coalesces into a technicolor sort of sonic boom. I was amid the tens of thousands of people yelling along to the lines as we were all pulled into the strange video projected on the high stage. They were passion personified, their energy never flagging, their voices always threatening to bust at the seams and spill out into chaos. It felt like being part of a rock opera, especially when they moved to songs from their newest release The Suburbs. It was a whirling two hours of exhausting their musical library, satisfying people who came for old and new.

arcade fire 3

Everyone in Arcade Fire is a star, which completely surprised me. No one seemed to outshine the other, which made it a white hot spectacle that required a lot of time to let it sink in. I couldn’t help but get a buzz off everyone listening; from right up front to the street people gathered and singing, the music not losing any of its power with distance. There could not have been a better closer. Arcade Fire has never been one of my favorite recorded bands, but after experiencing them in the heavy Chicago night air, I don’t think I can forget the way I felt a part of that celebration onstage and off, a culmination of musical experience and community – with a light show.

arcade fire 4

Dainon: Maybe what I’ll most remember of Lollapalooza this year will be showing up an hour before The National started, while MGMT sang softly at my back. But that’s only the beginning.

When Matt Berninger came out and sang what amount to sad, twisted love songs, holding no emotion back, when he rushed forward to the spot I was and I reached out and touched him on the hand and microphone and looked into what amounted to being very sad, dark eyes, that was the unexpected middle.

As for the end? It came with dragonflies overhead and Arcade Fire singing “No Cars Go” as my legs very nearly buckled and I sat on an offered chair instead of a mound of cool grass. That long moment, the one that lasted for a number of hours, I like that I will never be able to unforget it. What’s more, it’s a movie that comes with a soundtrack, an impossibly, gorgeous summertime one.

Thanks, Chicago. Thanks, Perry. I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to do another one of these, but, as a first and last time, it was a success all over the place.

PS – Best overheard quote during the very crowded xx set: “Whoa! This is like the real version of Facebook! Hey, are you my friend?!”


Grizzly Bear
grizzly bear

The Black Keys
black keys

The Big Pink
big pink 2

A big, pink fan at The Big Pink

the xx
the xx

See you in 2011?

[all of Kathleen’s pictures from all three days can be seen here]

April 11, 2010

We spend all night painting pictures that disappear when morning comes

adam h stephens

Tonight I am happy to share a bit of heartfelt enthusiasm that I received from my friend Katie, who DJs a marvelous Friday afternoon radio show at the college where I work. I have come to regard her as an eerily prescient musical twin, and I found her written narrative of a recent show she saw with Adam H. Stephens (of the San Francisco band Two Gallants) to be worth sharing.

Hers is unvarnished joy in great new music, and well — it sounds like I should take a listen. She says:

People ask me how I can have 15,000 songs in my iTunes and love so many musicians and still be able to pin down my favorite band, favorite album, and favorite song. My favorite song is on this aforementioned album by the very same band. Since the 10th grade (four years ago), I have held the conviction that “Jesus, Etc.” is my single favorite song that I’ve listened to in my life. I find other songs catchier, more lyrically intriguing, more musically intricate. The essence of the song, however, is completely indefinable. It is this sense of quality that Robert Pirsig spends two novels (Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila) hopelessly pursuing. That immeasurable but glaringly obvious sense that what you’re touching, seeing, hearing shows human artistic genius at its finest. In essence, art is a way we remind ourselves that we are human; we make art, therefore we alone are unique, and a song that gives me chills every time I hear it must embody this principle.

But I digress. I’m contemplating this today because yesterday, I saw a live performance that left me speechless. Adam H. Stephens opened for Rocky Votolato, and although I (as expected) enjoyed Rocky just as much as the first four times I saw him, the opener was the progenitor of those feelings of awe. Often, during an opener, I find myself feigning interest in the music in an effort to keep up my façade of being a concert snob while secretly wishing the band I paid for would just get on stage already. I can try to articulate exactly what made the Adam Stephens performance so incredible, but I’ll end up coming back to the same dilemma I have every time I hear Jesus, Etc. Technically, I loved how uncannily he sounded like Conor Oberst when he sang, comfort in the unknown territory of new lyrics and melodies. The bassist picked up the cello for the last song and she played it beautifully… The keyboards, barely discernible over Stephens’ technically impressive guitar playing added that essential layer of complexity and emotion to the songs. The drummer, like any lovable percussionist, bounced in his seat with unrestrained intensity. Yet none of this explains why I know that this music means something.

When I heard these songs, one after another striking me in a wholly new way, I felt, sincerely, just as I did when I listened to music like my first Radiohead or Wilco albums, that this music was why I was proud to be a part of this human race. Why I knew that if only some LPs could stick around, the aliens who inevitably stumble upon the remnants of our civilization might not think we were so worthless after all.

This all may sound ridiculous, but I know what I heard and more importantly, what I felt. I wish I could give you an mp3 and let you judge for yourself. But, in the silence after Adam introduced himself and his band (failing to mention his last name of course), I yelled out, “Adam, how do we get your music?” His coy reply, “Well, we don’t have any, but we do have t-shirts”. As an afterthought, he added, “We just recorded an album, but I guess until then,” while pointing at the stage, “this is how you get our music”.

I returned home, doubting the truth of this statement; who goes on tour without any released recordings? There had to be an EP. Despite all my best efforts, his statements proved true and all I could find were two lo-fi, acoustic demos on his myspace page – absent the complexity of his full band. I’m signed up for the email list, and until he finally releases music, I’m content to watch and re-watch youtube recordings of live songs.

All I can say is that if in three years I’m not saying, “Adam H. Stephens? Oh, I saw him before he even had an album, opening at the Hi-Dive for a $13 Rocky Votolato show,” all while waiting in line to see him play the sold-out Seattle Paramount — then, I have lost all faith in my musical instinct.

There is indeed precious little audio floating around from Adam to share with you, but he just went into Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles this past September and began recording his debut solo record with producer Joe Chiccarelli (My Morning Jacket, The Shins, White Stripes). Stay tuned.

And thanks, Katie, for making us listen.

[top photo credit April Votolato]

May 31, 2009

Riffing on Sasquatch

Fuel/Friends’ good friend Dainon from Utah went to Sasquatch Festival in Washington with my neighbor from across the street in Colorado. Go figure. I stayed home — but he reflects on his weekend well-spent in a special guest post.


Riffing on Sasquatch
by Dainon Moody

There’s a difference between the casual concertgoer and someone who attends a music festival. Well, several, in fact. Here’s a start. One’s looking for something to bump and grind to on a Friday night. The other has to plan for cheap airline tickets, a steady diet of free Beef Jerky samples and dried cherries for three days, carpooling in the back seat of a cramped Jetta for five hours in a row, overzealous country cops, 82 degree sunshine without the shade and, on top of that big pile o’ goo, which bands to see and which to leave far behind because, let’s face it, you just can’t see them all, no matter how hard you try to manage it.

I’ll go ahead and allow you to decide which is which.

See, the festivalgoer is not unlike a bird watcher in his or her dedication. I mean no offense to those who watch birds. I know little of the sport. I can chalk up my entire bird watching experience to seeing Blue Jays run smack into my grandma’s big Missouri sliding glass door time after time after mostly hilarious time. But, stay with me on this. There’s a real commitment involved in festivals. This is the hobby we have chosen. And there are parallels to consider. We may not be able to manage very believable whippoorwill birdcalls, but we’ll scream our lungs raw in appreciation when the guitar solo hits our ears right. We may not use binoculars to seek out whether or not, say, there are black speckles on a robin’s breast, but we’ll bone up on reviews and listen to your band’s songs weeks ahead of time in hopes of identifying one in your band’s onslaught of the hopefully familiar.

There’s more. We’ll take a barrage of photos of you as you perform, no matter how far away we are, no matter how dark it is; we never give up hope for the one blessed unblurred shot. And, if we’re really lucky, we’ll try to take them with us included and we’ll act as casual as we can manage standing next to you (with varying results, sure). We’ll even go about attempting to grab video of the songs in your catalog that we really, really like, avoiding the sing-a-longers standing nearby and pretending as much as we can that we don’t have shaky hands in the process. It all adds up to dedication. Let’s face it—in another line of work, we’d make for excellent peeping toms. As it stands, we’re simply superfans. We might even take a bullet for you if you catch us on the right day.

The ironic part of this is that, while we do have to commit to a lot and plan like crazy, we never have to commit to a band for very long once we get there. This definitely speaks to the single kids, as well as those adults who can’t make a decision to save our lives. If you’re not as good live as you are on CD (I’m looking at you, Passion Pit), we’ll know in a song or two. We don’t need to stick with you an hour. We can wander off to a new discovery or to a more tested-and-true kinda musicality. TV On The Radio and Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver win our devotion, easy. Santigold in the sunshine? The Gaslight Anthem doing a Pearl Jam cover, from the Singles soundtrack no less? We’ll stick around for gems like that. Nine Inch Nails? Eh, not so much. Hey, it is what it is.

Sadly, not everyone goes for the music at a festival. About half of the guesstimated 75,000 attendees at Sasquatch were using the music as a soundtrack to their $9 beer dranking and hours-long naps and apple bonging (it’s exactly what you think it is). Sometimes they were ingenious enough to sneak alcohol into the festival inside a flask shaped like binoculars or a hollowed-out loaf of bread even. Some just wanted to draw magic marker tats on one another. And still others were just around to see exactly how many sloppy, slobbery kisses and such they could get away with in the midst of wide-eyed onlookers (and it was a whole, whole lot, it really was). The rest of us? We were the bird watchers. We were the grizzled prospectors. We were sifting through the gravel, picking diamonds out of the rough stuff. We sought and found.

I can only speak for these eyes and these ears. For the curious, here’s a smattering of my findings.


Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele out of Mississippi? Both a surprise and a revelation. He was like Jens Lekman with an even better sense of humor. Maybe Elvis Costello with more of the boogie woogie infused into his tunes? The glasses and slicked hair cast him as a total geek of a guy, but he found my smiles. I mean, he had background singers manipulating the female doowop sound! He had a ukulele and he knew how to use it! One song was so good, you just wanted to hear what would come next. And then the next after that. It was easy to buy that album. It was one of the easiest sells I can recall.

The Decemberists? Need to buy the new album, pronto. Passion Pit? Need to listen to the album instead of the concert.

M. Ward was solid as a rock, he was. He’s a real pro at what it is he does. He knew he only had an hour to give us a show, so he took just seconds between songs, barreling from one to another so quickly, his set was just a cough away from being one long, beautiful melody. It pains me to write it, but Zooey wasn’t much needed.

It was good to fight for the spot that allowed us to see Bon Iver from just 20 feet away. It’s just unreal how good Justin Vernon sounds live, but he does. He just does. Whether he’s doing songs from his first album, the new EP or even throwing in a Kathleen Edwards cover to appease the pot smokers, he’s on top of his game. I think he knows it. There were sound snafus and it didn’t much matter in the end. He saw past them and showed his stripes. Hearing and watching his little crew do “Creature Fear” with enough ferocity to break his strings at the end of it all? That sealed the deal for me. That set opened me wide and made me a bigger fan than I already was.

VIDEO: Bon Iver at Sasquatch, w/ Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond – “Flume”

Heartless Bastards? I just love you. The Dutchess & The Duke? Thank you so, so much. Grizzly Bear? You done did what I thought you’d do. That band needs a bigger hug from the public, sure, and maybe it’ll happen with the new album. But you can get lost inside their harmonies pretty easily. It’s exactly what the band wants, too, so just let it happen.

There were more, but that ought to do, right? I’m running a bit long as it stands.

Biggest regret? Missing the Builders & The Butchers out of Portland. Scamper away and take them in because you’ll hear something just fantastic in them. Believe it. And The School of Seven Bells! Why’d you have to play while The Avett Brothers were? You intrigue me, but the Avetts stole my heart out from under me. I hope they make and sing their solid brand of country songs for the rest of the years I am alive. Then—and only then—will it be enough.

VIDEO: Avett Brothers @ Sasquatch – “Murder In The City”

You can only take so much festival. Sometimes two-and-a-half days’ worth is your breaking point. And you know it means missing Girl Talk and Explosions in the Sky and Erykah Badu but, you know what? You put your arm around Annie from St. Vincent. You left with an autographed copy of Grizzly Bear’s latest. You saw the lead singer of Monotonix perform so hard, he earned a flesh wound for his art … and, despite the blood coming out of his head, kept on going. You heard enough songs and saw enough good, solid bands to last you, what, a good month or two? Perhaps.

VIDEO: Monotonix drumming in the Sasquatch crowd

The mind wants more, maybe, and the miser in you wants to get the most out of what was a gifted ticket anyway (it’s the principle of the thing!), but there’s a time to retreat to your own bed, stop loving on the perfect 80 degree sunshine and give Sasquatch a kiss on the mouth goodbye. It was good, so crazy good, but goodbyes are inevitable. You can only take so much.

Still. Thanks, Sasquatch. I’ll remember you well.

December 4, 2007

“The difference between art and design” :: Interview with Travis

I’m pleased to have another entry this evening in our awesome guest-post series, an encore interview conducted by my roving reporter Brian London in California (who did the Superdrag piece in October).

This time I sent Brian off down the coast to the land of sunshine, traffic, and Disneyland to catch up with the guys from the literate and lovely Scottish megaband Travis about their new album, their songwriting philosophies and influences. Plus, he got some exclusive news about how the band is in talks to work with producer Steve Lillywhite again for their next album, a return to rock form. Read on — and if you’ve never listened to Travis before, Brian ably handpicked a fine little mix at the end of the post, just to start you off solidly in the right direction.

by Brian London

As I was led through the empty House of Blues in Anaheim, Travis’ manager looked back and offered the caveat that “the boys have just woken up and are waiting in the car park, hope you don’t mind doing this outside — all very peace and love.” I emerged outside into the cool southern California evening, and was greeted by one half of the group that Chris Martin of Coldplay recently claimed “invented his band.”

Fran Healy [lead vocals, songwriting and rhythm guitar] and Dougie Payne [backing vocals and bass] of Travis leaned up against the cement load-in ramp –looking just like the scene where William meets Stillwater for the first time in Almost Famous– and greeted me warmly through their mild, yet present, Scottish brogue.

Yes, the wee music geek inside nearly had a coronary at the situation I found myself in.

In the twilight of the afternoon, I sat on the ground and chatted with one-half of the band have been rocking and rolling around the world for the last sixteen years, selling millions of albums, but more importantly staying true to what people gravitated toward Travis for in the first place; a band that is all about the songs and, as their first single announced to the world, just wants to rock.

Brian: First, I want to congratulate you on a really great new record (The Boy With No Name, 2007). Fran, I heard that you gave up smoking. Did you do that before or after you had recorded the vocals for the album?

Fran: Before.

Your voice has always had a real clarity to it, but some of the vocals on this new record I think really come across as some of your best.

F: Thanks man. I’ve got to say for the vocals, maybe one or two of the songs I’m really proud of singing-wise, but most of the time I still have that feeling when you hear your own voice that you just can’t believe that’s what you sound like. But I do agree that it’s gotten better without cigarettes.

Like on which songs specifically?

F: Well, “Battleships” and “Under the Moonlight” I think are really good vocals. But the Under The Moonlight is a bit jiggery-pokery, lots of clever editing going on there. When I think about it, I’m probably more proud of the editing [laughs], but no matter.

I heard you guys wrote around 40 songs for this new record?

Dougie: Yeah, about that. I mean, we were recording for a long time, around two years. We would record sporadically and we ended up with around forty songs. But it wasn’t like we had forty songs written before we went into the studio.

So you guys would do a session, take some time, and then next time bring in another two or three tunes?

D: Exactly, so we ended up with about forty but we only mixed around twenty of them and then we picked the album from those twenty.

And regarding those other twenty, are there any plans to revisit them in the future?

D: There were a couple that were left unfinished, but you know, everything that’s usable I think was pretty much used. It’s strange now because with the way music is distributed you need three extra tracks for Japan, three different extra tracks for Europe and then b-sides! So I think it’s all pretty much used up.

That leads me into a question I had about your band’s method for sequencing records in the past. Your song “Flowers In The Window” on The Invisible Band record wasn’t going to be included until the last minute, right?

F: With that song, we had recorded the album and that was a song we had never got better than the demo which was me, Dougie and Andy sitting around in France just playing it live in a room with a piano and 12-string guitar and us all singing. It just had is really cool vibe with we could never get better. But the song was strong so we tried to record it umpteenth times after that.

D: Had to been about six times right?

F: Yeah, so then we went to do this album The Invisible Band. And Nigel [Godrich, uber-producer behind Radiohead, Beck, Paul McCartney, Air] always hated that song. Really, really didn’t like it.

D: He really had a real problem with it.

F: And when Nigel doesn’t like something, you really know. So we just didn’t go near it. But it was really bugging me, so on the last day I phoned him at 7am, woke him up and naturally that pissed him off.

A great start to any persuasion.

F: A very good start. So I told him I really think we need to record Flowers and, I mean, he got really upset, what with that being the reason for me waking him. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we ended up in the studio arguing like cats and dogs over this, but we put it down and I think the version we got it okay. But the version we do live is much more true how it was meant to be [as they did that night, the band crowds around Healy, who is playing guitar, with arms around each others’ shoulders singing into the same mic]. The demo still really is the best version and it never saw the light of day.

Any chance of putting that out as a b-side?

D: That’s a good idea.

F: Well, actually, it is on the DVD as an extra. It’s video of us making the demo and it’s lovely.

Your band has always been really reliable for putting out quality extra tracks. “Just The Faces Change” to “Village Man,” there are a lot of great gems. Have you ever considered packaging them up for fans outside the areas where they are readily available?

D: Yeah, I think at some point we will put out some kind of compilation. There have been some ideas floating around. Like you said, there are a lot of places like America, South America, that can’t get hold of this or that track so it would be nice. Eventually we’ll get around to it.

Have you guys ever consciously tried to write a b-side, or do you just sequence the album and pull from what’s left over and hope it’s enough to satisfy the different bundles of extra tracks?

F: You can’t try to write a b-side or a-side, you just try to write a song and if enough people think ‘oh, that’s amazing’ then it’s obvious it’s an album track, or a single.

Was it that way with “Coming Around”? (A stand-alone single that came out in 2000 and was not featured on any album)

D: That was going to be a b-side wasn’t it?

F Yeah, we had a bunch of extra songs that we were recording and the record company guy said ‘that’s not a b-side that’s an a-side!’. I still don’t think it is. I mean it’s good but…

If not a single, do you think it might have been an album track?

F: I still feel it’s a b-side [laughs]. A really good b-side. But it just didn’t have that certain….I can’t put my finger on it.

D: You want to make sure you are happy with everything you put out. Sometimes we have to go into the studio and record b-sides just to be able to put out a single, but we still try to do the best songs we have at that point.

Is there a sense of freedom with b-sides, like, we’re going to try some experimenting and if it doesn’t work out we can always just relegate them to extra tracks?

F: Well, lately it’s been hard because when you’re headed towards an album you really want it to be great so you’re kind of restrained under the pressure of that. Kind of your own pressure I guess of trying to make a record you can listen to from being to end. And not only that, but a record you can take out and play live as well. I think it’s really hard to write really good up-tempo songs. It’s really easy to write a slow, mid-tempo burner of a tune.

I totally agree. It does seem that everyone I know who has tried to write songs, their first ones are always slow and sad.

F: It’s always going to be hard restrained to some degree and I think that does hurt the chances of cool, random things happening.

Do you guys jam out the songs before recording to make sure they work live?

D: Not really because we record live pretty much, and especially with this record because we were doing it to tape most of the time, so if it didn’t work there we generally wouldn’t bother with it.

Do those backing tracks usually come fast?

D: We get the takes pretty quick. I mean, everyone gets an idea for a part and the song falls together pretty quickly.

And if the song isn’t falling together quickly, it’s a sign.

F: Yeah, totally. We just go and work on something else.

The band did a great studio blog while recording this album, and it always sounded like you’d come in, start a song around midday with a few takes, have a listen back and from that be able to pick the best and be done.

D: It’s funny, but more often than not it was the first one after dinner that we’d keep. Something to do with having a full stomach or whatever. I think time away from the takes really let the parts settle. It’s a weird thing, but true.

Are there any bands or sounds that you guys are big fans of, and you’ve tried to write songs or simply incorporate into what Travis does — and it just hasn’t worked?

F: No, I’ve never felt the need to because I feel even if someone writes a song and you’re like ‘oh, that’s a great tune’ you can only express yourself. You can’t express anyone else. I think what happens a lot of the time.

For example, the song “As You Are” was born completely listening to a song by Grant Lee Buffalo called “Fuzzy,” and “Across The Universe” by The Beatles. I think it’s Across The Universe . . . [hums a little bit, Dougie chimes in and then they both nod to each other in agreement that it is, in fact, Across the Universe]. But it’s not done consciously. Things come into your little world and your brain starts connecting the pieces without even your conscious control over it. And then you record it and that’s what it becomes.

D: I think sometimes bands consciously will take that bit from this song and this bit from that song and string it together to get a result, but that’s not why we’re doing it. It really comes down to the difference between art and design. I think people will design songs for whatever reason, to fill stadiums or to try and have hits, but there has to be a distinction between that and the art of songwriting.

And I wonder if those artists look back years later and listen to the record and reminisce about the time when they put A and B together? Since you guys are in it for the process, you can lean back and remember sitting in a room in France with two of your friends having a cool moment actually creating something out of nothing.

F: Yeah, but we don’t listen to it two years later! [Both Fran and Dougie break into laughter]. We play them every night live so there is no need. I mean, sometimes I do and think ‘that’s nice’ or ‘that sounds great.’ I don’t think there are any songs where I’m like ‘oh God’.

Any that you would pluck off of an album if you could go back?

F: Yeah, maybe. I think “She’s So Strange” from The Man Who, “Safe” off The Invisible Band might have gone, to make more lean albums. Maybe…..I don’t know, there are a couple of songs.

D: But it’s not really worth thinking about. It is what it is, and I believed in it at the time and still do. By the time you’re finished making it, you’ve literally heard it hundreds and hundreds of times, and then you’re going to go out and play it for the following however-many years, so there really isn’t a need to go back and listen to it.

Here’s a question I’ve always wondered about the making of your first album Good Feeling — your Scottish band worked with English Producer Steve Lillywhite in a studio in upstate New York. How did that string of events come together?

F: Steve had recorded The Dave Matthews Band at this studio in Bearsville that The Band set up and he really liked the assistants and the sounds and wanted to do it there, so we went.

D: We kind of thought, brand new band recording their first album, Steve Lillywhite is asking us to go to New York, it was just [laughs] well, alright! ‘Oh, we’re going to stay in Robbie Robertsons’ house? Where’s the ticket?!’ It was great.

The sound on that first record is a bit more rough around the edges and really seems to capture the energy of a young band who is excited to be in a real studio, see how loud the amps go and just having a blast. Not to say that you would want to repeat yourself, but would you ever think about maybe letting yourself return to that version of Travis?

F: Yeah. Definitely. I think the next record you’ll probably see that happen. We’re planning on that anyway. We’re going to go write for eight weeks, and then go record the album in a week just like we did with Good Feeling. I think the band is good enough to go and do that, you know. If we spend too long on the album it will end up sounding too slick and polished and there’s really nothing to hold onto.

And those cracks in the marble are usually what make a record interesting.

F: Interestingly we’ve been talking to Steve about producing again.

Is there anything written, or have you just been gathering up sketches?

F: There are a couple of ideas.

D: And a few of those unfinished ideas from the last record so we’ll see what happens.

F: I’m really excited, man. It should be really cool.

Where are you guys planning to go away and write this rock record?

D: Just going to head back home to London because we’ve been away for a lot of the year. So we’re going to get back and find a little cubbyhole.

Are you all located in London, or do any of you still live in Scotland?

D: Pretty much yeah. If not full time, we all have places there. Only Neil [Primrose, the drummer] lives up north.

F: But I think he can, because generally me, Dougie and Andy are the ones who are hands-on twiddling with ideas.

D: Neil will come in and nail his part in, like, never more than three takes. He gets really impatient with us fucking up our parts all the time!

Well, thanks a lot guys, and I’m looking forward to the show and the next record.

F & D: Thank you.

. . . And then Travis were off to soundcheck. The next time I saw them was their grand entrance to the stage. To the sound of the Rocky Theme, they entered from the back and moved through the crowd wearing silky boxer uniforms. They made it onto the stage and began with the fantastic new single “Selfish Jean.”

They rolled through the set of crowd-friendly singalongs, but kept it interesting by introducing tricks that only seasoned bands who know exactly how to control a crowd can pull off. One part that we all loved was when Fran asked the crowd for total silence while he showed what truly unplugged performance is. He unplugged his acoustic guitar, stepped back from the mic and belted out a beautiful version of the hymn-like extra track from The Man Who album called “Twenty.”

Travis is a band that upholds and respects the qualities which every band would value in an ideal world; pride in the craftsmanship of their art, giving the audience a show that embraces, amuses and entertains on every level. They also preserve that quality which seems to be the most difficult to maintain; the ability to be a complete success on every level while remaining as approachable and decent as they undoubtedly were when playing pubs in Scotland.

So raise your pints up high to another five albums worth of tunes that celebrate what can happen if you start a band for all the right reasons.

All I Want To Do Is Rock
Selfish Jean
Coming Around
Village Man (b-side)
The Connection (b-side)
As You Are
Just The Faces Change (b-side)
High As A Kite (b-side)
Twenty (bonus track)
Flowers In The Window (live in Santiago)


[photo above from Santiago, Chile show. Band pics from]

Related link: Check out Kevin at So Much Silence’s review of the recent Arizona show

October 12, 2007

Guest post: Chris from North Carolina, redux

In August, I wrote about the fabulous reader Chris from NC who took the time to send me five mix CDs and liner notes, and I posted some of the tracks off the first rock-themed collection.

There were four more discs full of goodness that were left shivering outside the blog love, so I wanted to move on to the next offering for your distinct enjoyment.

On this Friday afternoon, I’ll share a little mini-mix of five excellent selections from mix disc #2, along with his comments, on today’s guest blog. Let me repeat how much I enjoy hearing songs through other people’s ears, filtered through their own experience. Dig these fresh tunes:

Lots of humble opinions, sad songs, and covers

We Will Become Silhouettes – The Shins
Love the Postal Service, but this one’s better

Brilliant Disguise – Elvis Costello
Not so much a fan of Bruce’s version, but I love the lyrics and EC’s delivery. In easily the most surreal conversation of my life, Westerberg once told me you can call him E, but never Declan (his real name). You’ve been warned.

I Figured You Out – Mary Lou Lord
An Elliott Smith song that I could never find him doing. I think I really like this song in no small part because I can hear him singing it in my head.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Saint Etienne
Imaginative re-working of the old Neil Young song

More Than I Can Do – Steve Earle
Stalker song sometimes mistaken for a love song, along the lines of “Every Breath You Take.” Only less played out.

August 21, 2007

Guest post: Chris from North Carolina is a mixmaster across the miles

It’s kinda Guest Post Central around here lately with a few fine folks taking my place for a day. This is a very good thing for you, the reader, because all my friends have excellent musical taste. Obviously.

A few weeks ago I got a package from Chris out in North Carolina who made me not just one or two but SIX CDs full of genuine marvelousness that I am still digesting. Chris sends me some humid North Carolina greetings, and writes the following; “I often (morbidly) tell my wife Janet that if anything ever happens to me, she must check out your site to update her musical stylings.”

Due to flattery like that (ha!) and the sheer enjoyment I derived from his mixes, today I am going to share five of Chris’ picks with you off his first themed mix, along with his comments. There’s probably several other posts in the coming months from the stuff he sent me; honorary guest residency status out of this batch. I never tire of hearing the world through someone else’s ears.

(sort of a loose collective of Rolling-Stones-disciple tunes)

The Figures of Art – Spoon
I saw Spoon open for a friend’s (kinda crappy) band in a tiny Mexican restaurant in Chapel Hills 10 yrs ago when they still wanted to be the Pixies. Love the Stonesy-intro riff here, and I’m thrilled they decided they’d just rather be Spoon.

Too Bad – Faces
Speaking of The Stones, I really don’t get how FM radio in the Midwest played the hell out of the Stones, but missed out on everything by these guys except “Stay With Me.” I cannot think of anyone in modern history who has had access to more good, clean, hedonistic fun than Rod and he sings like it.

Bohemian Like You – The Dandy Warhols
If you have not caught DiG, it is a must-see ["A documentary on the once-promising American rock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, and the friendship/rivalry between their respective founders, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor"]. Brian Jonestown Massacre is such a compelling story of a band and they obviously loved the Stones too, but they’d think it was beneath them to play quite so accessibly. I don’t care if it is a ripoff with at-times insipid lyrics, it rocks anyway.

Don’t Look Back Into The Sun – The Libertines
Much like my favorite band The Replacements, I do not see how the Libertines decided which songs to leave off their albums. This b-side is by far my favorite of their tunes.

Ca Plane Pour Moi – Plastic Bertrand
European Vacation featured this song way back in the day and I’ve always thought of it, perhaps unfairly, as a French Ramones song.

BONUS, as I love the mixery technique of sandwiching in a little dialogue snippet or something cool between the songs; Chris used this as track 8:
“Do You Feel Your Music Is Racist?” – This Is Spinal Tap

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July 24, 2007

Guest post: George Harrison demos

Since I’m on vacation, it’s a fine time to let someone else take the wheel for a bit, as one of you recently commented. So today we’ve got a special treat to the Fuel/Friends blog with a guest blog on a nice little set of demos from Beatle George Harrison.

I’d been entirely unfamiliar with any of Harrison’s solo work before I was recently challenged to unearth this set of demos from Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album (1970). I was surprised at the gentle and warm acoustic loveliness, not being at all familiar with Harrison’s work aside from The Beatles.

This particular pal is responsible for introducing me to a massive amount of good music, and possesses an encyclopedic library of musical minutae in his head. Not kidding, it’s like world-record material. This is his first attempt at blogging: for years now he’s just had to try and unload his vast musical knowledge on disinterested friends and poor passersby. Finally, he has a willing audience. He writes:

Not only are these sessions amazingly historic, but they’re just beautiful — like the George Harrison cafe sessions! Art of Dying was written in 1966 and fuck me does it sound like it totally could have been on Revolver — which it would have been considered for?! But I think it probably sounded too much like Eleanor Rigby, and since it was Paul vs. George…ta da.

George sat down on solo guitar with Phil Spector in Abbey Road Studio 2, and ran through the cache of songs he had built up over the repressive last years of the Beatles. Sit back, get a coffee, put on a turtleneck if you feel pretentious enough, make like it’s the end of the ’60s, and let George play you some of the tunes he’s been collecting over the past few years.”

w/ Phil Spector (“Beware of ABKCO” sessions)

Run of the Mill
Art of Dying
Everybody, Nobody

(sounds to me like a variation of the riff from I’ve Got A Feelin’)
Window, Window
Beautiful Girl
Beware of Darkness
Let It Down
Tell Me What Happened To You
Hear Me Lord
Nowhere to Go (a Harrison/Dylan collaboration)
Cosmic Empire
Mother Divine
I Don’t Want To Do It (Dylan)
If Not For You (Dylan)


Note: the title of this boot comes from a changed lyric on the song “Beware of Darkness” to “Beware of ABKCO” (Allan B Klein Company).

July 4, 2007

Guest post: My little brother defends his musical honor, schools us on Japanese music

Last weekend I posted something that my little brother out in San Diego had recommended to me, and I made a tiny dig at his past musical interests (who am I to talk, I liked NKOTB). Brian graciously called me on it, told me he actually still likes Japanese music, and suggested he write a little something about it to school all of us. An excellent idea, fitting in with the World Music Wednesday feature that I can’t seem to find enough time to maintain these days, but am still very interested in.

In addition to trying to teach me the fine points of guitar playing (pictured above, harder than it looks), he also loves to talk music just like his big sis. So it’s a pleasure: take it away, dude.

I am Brian, and you are Heather’s friends. My whole family, it seems, has this deep love for music in one form or another, and I could probably fill Heather’s entire daily blog with music of my own tastes, because like her, music is my life. I love studying music, learning new types of music, spending hours listening to it, and constantly growing my library from which I can draw the beautiful sensations which music always delivers. Music is my fuel, which would, in some strange reorganization of words, making my sister my drive in life – but I guarantee you that is not the case. Since I breathe, eat, sleep, and drink music day in and day out, I thought I would share some of my tastes with you, Heather’s faithful readers.

I have learned something as I’ve aged [editor’s note: he’s all of 25, folks], and that is that if someone who claims to love music cannot listen to music they don’t understand, or music belonging to a culture with which they do not associate, they are lacking in something. I want to open the doors to what is in my opinion wonderful music, that like a fine wine may take time getting used to and learning, but will grow on you if you give it time. Sit back, relax, and take a second to try to enjoy music that you might not normally listen to.

A note about Japanese music before we start: One thing that you should remember is that English is very popular in Japan – having song titles in English, using English in the chorus line, or as the background vocals – is very popular, widely accepted, and almost standard across the Japanese music industry. I understand that (to the best of my knowledge,) there is no English-speaking country where another language is so prevalent in its music as it is in Japan, but try to keep that in mind as you listen. It is not out of the norm – rather, it is the norm.

Pizzicato Five
Busting onto the scene in 1985, and calling it quits later in 2001, Pizzicato Five have been one of the longer running bands to have fame in Japan. They are one of the most individualistic, non-conforming, “we’re going to play whatever the hell we want to play” bands I have ever heard. Their poppy, sometimes odd music is something that takes a little getting used to. The band’s two members, Yasuharu Konishi and K-Taro Takanami, take turns singing and playing the instruments in the songs, so each song is a good reflection of both of them. Their best CD in my opinion is Playboy & Playgirl (on Matador in the U.S., 1998).

La Depression – Pizzicato 5
I Hear a Symphony – Pizzicato 5
Such A Beautiful Girl Like You – Pizzicato 5

[Heather's addition:]
Twiggy Twiggy – Pizzicato 5 (I never get tired of this one)

Utada Hikaru

Well shoot. How do I even write about Utada Hikaru and NOT take up like fifteen pages? Ahhh, bullet points. So – tell me, how many of these things have you accomplished in your life:

  • Released 7 studio albums totaling over 40,000,000 in sales
  • Become pretty much THE most popular musical icon in all of Japan, following the release of your first CD, at age 16 (and if you’re thinking, “oh, it’s the Japanese Britney Spears…. no. No no no.)
  • Had the most number one songs of any artist ever in Japan, including 12 Golden Disk awards (like our Grammy award)
  • Released full albums in both English and Japanese
  • Fricken. Rock.
  • Be born in New York, have a massive international audience, be popular all over the world, and…. still have no one in America know who you are, save Asian people.

That pretty much sums it up. I got into Utada Hikaru during my junior year in high school, 1999, when her first album, First Love, came out. She was 16, pretty much the same as all the girls putting out poppy little bubblegum CDs here in America, like Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, Christina Aguilera, and all the other crap that was popular at the time, but my high school, being around 65-70% Asian, had a slightly different tilt to it, and so naturally, I was sucked in.

I believe Hikaru is one of the only artists in the world who can claim the number 1 spot on the charts for seven straight albums. Hit after hit after hit – and they never stop coming. She has diversified herself from electronic-y late ’90s music to beautiful ballads, albums in full English, and almost every type of music you can think of. She is more than just an icon to Japanese listeners, she carries with her so much talent, with such a great voice, creative sounds and lyrics, and it will be so hard to give you just four songs of hers. You really need to check her out. Now.

Automatic – Utada Hikaru (off her first CD)
First Love- Utada Hikaru (title track to first CD, at age 16)
Simple and Clean – Utada Hikaru (all in English)
Colors – Utada Hikaru (off her latest CD)

Kiss Destination
To be honest – I don’t know a lot about this artist. To my knowledge, she only has one real album (and a host of singles) but her one disc, released in 1999, didn’t really go anywhere, and she’s not around anymore. If I were so lucky to have someone reading this that actually owns this CD, I will buy it off you. I can’t find it anywhere, but the five or six tracks I have from the CD are all amazing.

Kiss Destination was the project of a band we’re going to cover later, Globe –one of the biggest Japanese rock/electronica bands in the last 20 years– and singer Asami Yoshida (featured to the left). Asami’s voice is melodic, and she mixes her flavor of pop in with a little bit of rap and very memorable melodies.

Over and Over – Kiss Destination
Long and Winding Road – Kiss Destination

Finally! I’ve been waiting to write about Ketsumeishi since I started this post last night, because they are absolutely amazing. Ketsumeishi is an awesome blend of pop music, amazingly talented rappers, great voices, and awesome beats. I don’t want to lay down some blanket statement about an entire genre of music, but when most people think of rap, it has the impression of American popular rap. “oh. that.” This is NOT what you’re thinking. Japanese rappers are incredible — the way that Ketsumeishi can flow is unlike anything I’ve ever hear out of American rap, so I highly encourage you to listen to these two tracks of theirs.

This is where I REALLY need you to put on your culture hat, and try to get past the fact that you do not understand this, and that the style of rap is totally not what you’re used to. Please, do it for yourself. You will be a better person for liking Ketsumeishi. They consist of four members, Ryo, Ryoji, 大蔵, and DJ Kohno, they have released 4 albums and are working on a new release for 2007. To date, they have sold more than 4,000,000 copies. Call me crazy, but try to watch the Sakura music video without crying… I’m just a sucker for love stories.

Yorukaze – Ketsumeishi
Sakura – Ketsumeishi


m-flo is a Japanese hip-hop group consisting of two guys that I would just love to go out and drink with, DJ Taku Takahashi and VERBAL. Apparently the original name for the group was meteorite flow, but their producer said that it was too long, so they shortened it to the now famous m-flo. Formed also in 1999, (seems like a popular year in Japan musical history!) with their third member, Lisa, they released 5 albums and had amazing success before she decided to leave the group in 2002, citing artistic differences.

For the first several years, m-flo put out several awesome CDs and singles, and were more the type of group to have a killer CD over a ton of number one hits, but for the last few years m-flo has made their largest impact on the music scene by working with other famous artists to produce “m-flo” remixes of popular songs. Produced under the name “m-flo loves [artist] – [title]” their work has become internationally known and recognized as some of the best hiphop and remixing work in the world. I love m-flo, so again, it’s going to be hard to just choose a few tracks for you to listen to, especially since both members speak perfect English and often-times interweave English and Japanese in the same sentence, or have English in the left channel and Japanese in the right – it’s pretty awesome to listen to. I wonder if it would give you a headache if you were fluent in both…

m-flo loves yoshika – Let Go
m-flo loves chemistry – Astrosexy
m-flo loves ketsumeishi & Lisa – Tegami

Every Little Thing
Last, but definitely not least, is the band that is probably most responsible for my love of Japanese music, other than Utada Hikaru. I learned about Every Little Thing around 2000 – 2001, and instantly fell in love with them. They sound a lot like an ’80s rock band full of power chords, distorted guitars, synthesizers, and killer guitar solos. Some of their music has a softer quality to it, like many of the late ’80s bands who would put crazy soft ballads in the middle of two hard songs.

There isn’t anything that I can say that would explain why I love ELT so much — they don’t do anything better than any other group in this list, they don’t have the best vocals, the most catchy sounds, or the most difficult guitar parts, but something about the sound just . . . captivates me. They have released so many CDs over the years that they were able to release 4 CDs of greatest hits, entitled Every Best Single, Every Best Single 2, Every Best Single 3, and Every Best Ballad.

So needless to say, they have a huge history of fame on the island to the west. They are semi-impervious to time, it seems, as they have not been caught up in much of Japanese pop culture (much like Pizzicato 5) and have really just done their own things, sticking to their deep rock roots regardless of what time period it is now.

Every Little Thing – Dear My Friend
Every Little Thing – Shapes of Love
Every Little Thing – Jump
Every Little Thing – Futari De Jidai Wo Kaetemitai

So . . . I hope this was a nice venture into the land of Japan for all of you who read Heather’s blog. I might just come back and do more international music sometime in the future. Feel free to email me about any of the bands listed here, if you just have any questions in general, or if you just want to be my friend and talk about music. I’m way cooler than Heather. You can reach me at

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Bio Pic 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

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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