July 21, 2015

Eaux my goodness, Eaux Claires

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The inaugural Eaux Claires Music Festival in Wisconsin this past weekend was one of my favorite music festivals I have ever been to. I went because of the absolutely ridiculous lineup, hand-curated by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National), and was floored by the community spirit, constant collaboration of musicians I love, and air of joy that permeated the festival.

Entering under a rainbow of gossamer delight by “Minneapolis yarnbomber” HOTTEA:
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The first set of the festival for me was the freewheeling warmth and elasticity of Hiss Golden Messenger, whose redolent album Lateness of Dancers (out on Merge Records) I’ve been listening to a lot all this spring and summer.

I was dancing too hard to get any good photo or video, but they were tremendously good live, all their songs taking on new color and sounding somehow even better than on the album– especially when they were joined by the No BS! Brass Band, who delightfully showed up on stage and in the crowd at all the most wonderful times during the festival.

It also made me so happy to see Justin Vernon standing sidestage for most of their set, singing along and thumping on his chest; that’s one of the best feelings to see something you’ve booked and worked to make happen finally set off rolling:

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With an entirely new backing band from the folks that we hosted at my house and in the chapel, Chris Porterfield’s Field Report was the next on my schedule to see.

After traversing the lush green forest path between stage areas (happily), I arrived to hear a completely reworked version of “I Am Not Waiting Anymore,” a deep deep favorite of mine. Even re-envisioned as a faster, more rollicking alt-countrified tune, it still gets deep in my gut every time–the word structure, the evocation. The songs they played off Marigolden, the new record, were also incredible in the live setting. Chris writes songs that are so real and honest, in the lyrical content, in the potency of delivery. They’re unflinching, and I like that.

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Okay, so — new to me, because I’ve been slow on the uptake lately: Sylvan Esso holy shit completely blew my hair back (not literally because it was ten thousand degrees + humid and my hair was a giant damp frizzball of drippy sweat, even moreso dancing under the tent for their set).

Amelia Meath of Mountain Man (and also one of the busier guest performers of the festival, singing also with Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook) and Nick Sanborn of Megafaun make rich, haunting, shimmery confections of eminently danceable music together. AND AMELIA MOVES LIKE THIS, while wearing (not pictured) 4-inch platform shoes and singing like a complete badass:

I fell in love. I bought the full album immediately and am praying for enough hot summer lazy days left to listen to it on nonstop repeat.


(also check out the super cool Song Exploder podcast about the roots and guts and words of this song, which made me like them even more)



Friday night’s set from The National was what I was looking forward to the most from this weekend. I hadn’t seen them since that atom bomb of a performance at Red Rocks in 2013, and was feeling just about recovered enough to let them rip it all back open.

They delivered a set that was even more tightly furious and darkly melodic than I’d seen in a while from them. Matt seemed especially electrified, as he paced and screamed (and they performed both “Abel” and “Mr. November”?!), and then leapt into a crowd that I feared might actually consume him during “Terrible Love” (I confess to a hearty clasping of his arm when the eddy of the sweaty crowd shoved him into my orbit).

Also, because of the massive group of friends assembled as co-performers on the bill of the weekend, the set contained some pretty incredible guests.

YOU GUYS JUSTIN VERNON SANG ON “SLOW SHOW”:

(even though Matt had to publicly chastise him for wearing shorts; this is a classy band, man!)

Sufjan came out for several songs; here singing “Afraid of Everyone” with Matt:
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AND, as a kicker, there was a closing singalong to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” with both Sufjan Stevens and Justin Vernon.



After severe weather sirens going off at 2:30am in the UW-Eau Claire dorms that this California girl had zero idea how to deal with (google!), after surviving and not being washed away, Saturday morning crested crisp and full of the promise of another whole day of wonderful performances. The sound of Phil Cook wafting through the air made me stop my foraging for food and book it across the field immediately to begin dancing with a troupe of barely-clad college dudes (“vodka for breakfast, guys, amirite??” – my friend Michelle) for a wildly fun set that left me looking up all the music I could find from this talented gent. He also played with Hiss Golden Messenger, and is also in Megafaun. It’s all a big circle of goodness, and I definitely intend to troll around in his catalog.

The performance of this song at the festival was a beast:



After having the honor of LNZNDRF (“Lanzendorf”) playing at my college in the spring with a special chapel rehearsal that I am working to bring you a glimpse of, I was really excited to see this experimental band play again. With core members Ben Lanz (The National, Sufjan Stevens, Beirut) and the Devendorf brothers (Scott and Bryan, from The National), they were joined this weekend by Josh Kaufman (a musician who plays with Yellowbirds and Josh Ritter) and trumpeter Kyle Resnick of The National.

Together they created this otherworldy miasma of sounds that played off each other to build and dissipate under the little tent space where they played their surprise show. Watching their intuitive knowledge of each other as musicians is a joy, as they weave each performance together freshly – with no traditional setlist of songs, just a scaffolding of new sound creations, insistent and expansive.

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PHOX premiered a spirited and imaginative short film at the fest, ostensibly about their mad dash to get to the festival in time in a zigzag across Wisconsin, punctuated by genies and dastardly lumberjacks, but really maybe about Monica’s quest to find her voice and learning to not look inside a bottle (ahem). After a midnight screening on the lawn Friday, they repeated the showing immediately before their Saturday late afternoon set.

Perhaps augmented by the film but also just by the fact that this band is fucking magical (and I’ve crowed it since the first time I heard their dulcet earworm creations), they received one of the warmest and loudest home-state welcomes from the crowd of any band I saw all weekend. I was hoping they’d play “No Lion,” the cover from the chapel session we recorded, but instead and even better, the culmination of their spirited set was a new a capella creation that was jawdropping. My heart swells for these kids. Everything about them just keeps getting better.



Two other memorable punctuations of the weekend included a crowd singalong with Vermont songwriter Sam Amidon conducting us enthusiastically in traditional melodies (listen) complete with sheet music, and Field Report’s Chris Porterfield joining in as he walked by:

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…and a whimsical “Forever Love” matinee show with original compositions by Bryce and Aaron Dessner on a special woodland stage with elaborate set. This festival was crafted to be punctuated by little moments of delight and surprise. It made it feel so much fresher and more intimate, more honest (?) than a lot of other large festivals I’ve gone to. Even though it had 22,000 attendees, it felt closer in spirit to something like the Doe Bay Fest / Timber Music Fests of the Pacific Northwest that I’ve had the joy of being a part of. I think that’s really saying something about Justin and Aaron’s design for this happening.



I had some strong ruminations during Bon Iver’s closing set (pictured here with The Staves on backing vocals and S. Carey as one of two (!!) drummers):
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As introduction, there was an exceedingly genuine, heart-swelling speech given before Bon Iver’s set by festival narrator Michael Perry (a music writer from Eau Claire, and man who Justin later said was one of the most important friendships of his life). He said:

“If you hold yourselves still and silent now, you can feel that river, runnin’ behind you, running through the night, running through all time.

It’s good to have music near a river. There’s this idea of baptism, of absolution, no matter what you believe.

Better yet, it’s good to have music at a place where two rivers come together–a confluence. For what are we but a confluence? A confluence that lives and breathes, a confluence of dream and song, a confluence of 22,000 beating hearts.

And so here we are, cradled by a river in a sanctuary of song: craving consecration, exaltation. On bended knee, seeking benediction.”

With that, Justin launched seamlessly into the first live performance of his song “Heavenly Father,” and closing vespers, so to speak, began. And it felt like benediction indeed.

I kept thinking all weekend that I was glad to be in a crowd where there were blatant hearts on actual sleeves everywhere. I saw so many Justin Vernon words permanently inscribed in flesh. More than just a gathering of the converted, a festival of the fanboys and fangirls, I was surprised that I was pretty deeply moved at (for instance) the lanky, athletic-looking dude standing behind me in the breakfast line with “and i told you to be patient and i told you to be fine and i told you to be balanced and i told you to be kind” in a block of text over his heart. We’ve heard that line a thousand times so as for it to become rote, but it wasn’t rote when it was written — it was true and that is truth, and it struck me as such. I found myself remembering the deep beauty in wholehearted loving, in full-faced believing.

As we sang along to the same words I sang back in 2009 in an afternoon set under San Francisco cypress trees, I thought about what might have been lost, what’s changed and what hasn’t. This weekend was one of fragmenting for me back into little pieces, so that I could examine and regrow some of the connective tissues and remember why it is we see and participate in live music, why we believe. In between the two new songs that Justin closed the Bon Iver set with, he tried to put into words what the festival and the weekend meant to him, as he visibly batted at tears in his eyes with a flick of his fingers. “I think what we give each other and what we can believe in each other, I think that’s how we can become …greater.” I love him for still shoving his heart out there, for still standing there bald-facedly being true and unflinching, believing in himself and music and us, all around him.

The first thing I loved about Justin Vernon the first time I heard him and saw him live was a purity, and this festival seemed to capture that pure spirit–that urgent reaching for a real connection. I can think of very few better things to strive for in this life and in the songs we sing and the music we embrace.

To quote my wonderful friend and accomplice at the fest, Michelle, I am going to be hungeauxver for weeks, I think. And I couldn’t be more deeply happy.

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The Chippewa river, running through all time, and cradling all 22,000 of us.

July 15, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #31: PHOX

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In a recent segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, PHOX frontwoman Monica Martin confided to Melissa Block a similar thing to what she told me last year — that she has somehow, unbelievably, been a timid singer for years. To watch the glory that slowly unfolds now out of her tight green bud of self into this dazzling swirl of confetti is truly jaw-dropping.

Monica’s voice could easily rank up there with the greats, the distinctive women who command a room, who make your heart twinge and ache, who spin out old memories like cotton candy with the ease of her fingertips. This gal used to sing behind a megaphone, afraid to look at the audience?

PHOX is a band of friends, above all, who have grown up all wound together in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I am sure that familial connection helps instill some measure of safety around a hesitant singer on stages across the country and the world. The genuine affinity between them all was obvious when we met. Their songs have captivated me from the first time I listened, all multi-instrumental experimentation and a hazy sort of deepening joy — with melodies that absolutely stick in your head for days without leaving. Their full-length record just came out a couple of weeks ago and people are (rightfully) losing their shit over it. You should go get it right away – definitely a top album of the year so far.

Here’s what they sounded like almost exactly a year ago on (I believe) their first tour ever. It was a short, sweet, stunning set that afternoon that left us all shimmering – tremendous then, and tremendous now.

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PHOX
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
July 17, 2013

Slow Motion
This is one of the most winsomely charming songs that I’ve heard in the last few years, and I have listened to it (and watched THE VIDEO) dozens of times. There is a playful, glorious thread running through this song that feels like it unfolds in a number of scenes or movements. As a fan of creative percussion, I superlike watching how they construct and layer the handclaps here also:



Espeon
This song sounds to me like a springtime morning waking up. It could be a forest or a meadow, or it could be a city where the shopkeepers roll up the metal grates and sweep the sidewalk that passes in front. To me it sounds like a song about a smile that you can’t shake.

Side note: I googled what an Espeon was, and it turns out it is a Pokemon — and as the mother of a ten year old boy, I really should have known that you guys. And then I also remembered that when Phox stayed at my house they specifically commented in praise of Samuel’s Pokemon dragon toy-thing that says “TYBLOSION” or something when you touch its stomach. Now THERE’S A LEITMOTIF YOU DIDN’T SEE COMING.

No Lion (Boom Forest cover)
Oh MAN.

From the first lyrics sung alone out into the room: “These days …these days are hard…” — I was frozen in place in that church, listening to four of the members of PHOX craft this with just their voices the whole way through. And then it builds and just gets stronger as it gathers steam; it is stunning, and it gave me full-body chills anew when I listened to the finished recordings. Boom Forest (John Paul Roney) is also from Baraboo, Wisconsin, and you can hear his fervent stuff (including this song) here — I like it a lot. PHOX sings on this song on his record as well.

I keep putting this song on repeat. Wow.



DOWNLOAD THE ZIP: PHOX CHAPEL SESSION

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All pictures from that afternoon are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook Page, if you wanna see more from that day.

This is our second session we’ve posted that was recorded using the fabulous Blue Microphones. I ain’t mic-smart, but I can tell a significant wow factor in the sound that has been attained through their support of these sessions. Thanks guys.

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[Audio wizardry, recording, and mixing time donated by the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records, as always, and video and photography from the supreme Kevin Ihle. Thanks for being part of creating these special sessions.]

July 16, 2013

just for a moment, true at first light

I am so taken by that mellifluous, honeyed VOICE.

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.

This song, “Kingfisher,” is also available (like all of their music) for FREE on their bandcamp site.

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!

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June 26, 2013

everything i do, i do in slow motion

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I have a grad student working in my office with me this summer and at this point I am 99% sure he wants me to start playing something other than Phox, a seven-piece band from Madison, WI. He likes them plenty, but my unrelenting affinity for them is lately non-stop. But I’m the boss and I make the soundtrack choices — and this is a good choice. I’m teaching my intern about good choices in the workplace.

Phox creates malleable music: effervescent and smoky at the same time, with shimmery layers of creative instrumentation anchored by the stunning voice of Monica Martin. I CAN’T STOP LISTENING.

Slow Motion – Phox



I’d gotten some reader buzz in my emails about this band, and then learned that they are one of only three bands managed by ONTO Entertainment (the other two being chapel session alums The Lumineers and Hey Marseilles, so they’re in good company). I think Phox has the potential to blow up this year, and I would be happy to get this into everyone’s ears.

As a band, they are perfectly difficult to classify, and they’re dang smart. Look at how they answer this interview question:

What trend in music business should we be paying attention to?
“Synthesis. Don’t worry too much about EDM, or the Americana revival. Just look what’s in between the two. Not just an average of the two popular aesthetics, but the intuitive common ground which is developing the native tongue of our generation. Look for artists.



You can download Phox’s Confetti EP for free here (so why aren’t you doing that yet? Go. I’ll wait).

I’m also thrilled to announce that we’re bringing them to Colorado Springs on July 17, playing the Ivywild School venue that I am now booking! Last night at Ivywild, at the first show we put together there (with Field Report), Chris Porterfield informed me of the existence of THIS song that is just so many shades of wonderfulness colliding that I can’t even….

Route 18 (Kiings remix, feat. Monica Martin of PHOX) – Field Report

That entire Warehouses Possessed by the City: A Wisconsin Remix EP is also available for free download. Go internet. You’re killin’ it today.

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[image of Monica credit Lauren Lindley]

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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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