At SXSW, in a week of strong if mostly homogenous indie rock-lite bands, and at a showcase for a genre of music (metal) that’s dominated more by screaming than by singing, Lo-Pan was a welcome deviation from the norm. I’m glad I skipped The Strokes.
At their performance at Barbarella, the Columbus-based band first caught my attention with their physical arrangement onstage. Bassist Skot Thompson stood downstage-right; guitarist Brian Fristoe was downstage-left; and drummer JBartz sat upstage center. Nothing atypical about any of that.
The unusual thing was that vocalist Jeff Martin (who writes all the song lyrics) was almost hidden from view. He stood upstage-right, kind of in a corner between the bass and drums. And there he stayed, for the entire set. None of those all-too-common singer/screamer-who’s-not-playing-an-instrument running around downstage with neck veins bulging and spit and sweat flying onto the audience type antics.
In a word: no diva.
But there was singing. Yes, actual singing. Strong tenor vocals, on pitch. No screams.
I’m not sure I’d call Lo-Pan 100% metal—and that’s not just because of the singing. I can’t quite put my finger on what the classification should be. Their myspace page says “Classic Rock/Crunk/Psychedelic”, but I’m not convinced that’s right. For one thing, the songs are virtually crunk-less. The music is rock, without a doubt. The hard-hitting forward propulsion of JBartz’s drums bears some resemblance to Motörhead. There’s also some Baroness-esque sludge going on in the thickness of the bass and guitar riffs. So, score two for the metal category. But there are hints of a ballsier Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in there, as well. Score one for rock/psychedelic. (Baroness, as well, visits trippy territory.) The Chris Cornell-quality vox and dirty guitars recall early Soundgarden, but Lo-Pan isn’t grunge. Alternative rock is a useless term, and this band is tougher than that, anyway.
So, what are they? The question keeps me listening. That, and their live presence: the amount heart in their playing is visceral—collectively, and from Thompson in particular. It’s not often that the bass player stands out in a metal band; more commonly the focus is on rip-roaring guitar heroics or speed-demon drumming. (Or screams.) Again, at the risk of over-relying on this comparison, Motörhead seems an appropriate reference, Lemmy being one of the few bass players whose unmistakable style has defined a band. Similarly, Thompson brings high-caliber chops and a cool intensity that go beyond grounding the root notes of the song; in many cases he’s carrying the rhythm and sustaining the heavy mood simultaneously. This is not to say that the other players aren’t pulling their weight—they certainly are. But just listen to how Thompson matches Fristoe’s guitar note for note on bass from about the 4:45 mark of “Dragline” (from the newly remastered 2009 album Sasquanaut), nearly to the end of the song. It’s an almost Priest-like double axe attack, with the bass standing in for a second guitar. Subtle, yet powerful.
Lo-Pan’s third record, Salvador, to be released this month, maintains this power trio + power singer formula with even tighter (read: potentially commercially appealing) arrangements. Lyrically, Martin presents an inner apocalypse that seems to manifest itself in physical metaphors. Even if violent images like “blood on the snow” and “rivers run red with the blood of the greedy” are a bit overwrought and lines about “all my paranoid fantasies” a tad vague, Martin does achieve an overall atmosphere of honest despair. These may not be the most sophisticated lyrics, but their earnestness is relatively believable.
I have a feeling that some people will dismiss Lo-Pan due to the accessibility—as in, listen-ability—of their music compared to that of indie metal bands who seem to trade on the fact that you have to suffer through serious aural abrasion in order to hear the actual music. (Agalloch, for example, who headlined the SXSW showcase at Barbarella that featured Lo-Pan, drew a packed crowd. While Agalloch is a terrific band, their death metal is not “easy” to listen to, per se.) If nothing else, I’d like to make a case for Lo-Pan with the idea that indie metal doesn’t have to be avant-garde or “difficult” in order to be good, or at least enjoyable.
Before you make up your mind about Lo-Pan, see them live. They’re touring and gaining momentum. I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard them on the radio within a year or two. The possibility of their finding a broad fanbase seems likely.
In a word: exhaustion.
Tornado Rider at Momo’s. Awesome. If you do not know who these Californians are, find out. I’d call their music folk metal. (Could there be any two more disparate genres?) Rushad Eggleston (a.k.a. “The Sneth Goblin”) prances around in pink striped spandex pants and a hat that looks like it came from Sherwood Forest whilst wearing — yes, wearing — a cello. He’s Eddie Van Halen meets Robin Hood meets Yo-Yo Ma’s headbanging bastard cousin from Appalachia. Graham Terry (“Grammeecious the Black”) counters Eggleston’s hyperactive energy with a heavy bass groove (and a coonskin cap), and Scott Manke (“Baron Skatogious von Doodooheimer”) on drums harnesses the mayhem into a Mötorhead-esque driving thrash rhythm. And they’re hilarious. It’s brilliant.
In a puzzling stroke of luck, I scored an artist wristband because for some reason my band Love Crushed Velvet was registered in the SXSW database. Our lead singer A.L.X. discovered this upon arriving in Austin and “checking in” at the convention center. He and I immediately put the wristbands to good use at the Pitchfork party at Emo’s, where we saw No Joy and Weekend before heading to Spill, where I bailed, but A. stuck around for Diamond Rings and reported back that the set was strong.
The day of kickass female singers and ass-kicking metal.
Paste party: Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea, at Stage on Sixth. What a voice this girl has. Later, I migrated with a cadre of New Yorkers to the SPIN magazine loft for a solo acoustic set by Jewel, who was stunning — and (who knew?) hilarious, relating personal anecdotes between songs with a charmingly understated sense of humor.
Hit Barbarella in the evening for a metal showcase. Lo-Pan gets my SXSW award for favorite new discovery. Agalloch, the one band I really wanted to see this week (and the only show where my wristband really came in handy), killed it on the outdoor stage; their dark, abrasive ambience engulfed the audience for what seemed like a relentless eternity.
(Note: do not go from a death metal concert to a church. I did this. It made me paranoid. I caught the end of City and Colour‘s set at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, and, while the acoustics were fantastic, I kept expecting an evangelist to take the stage and guilt trip me for having just enjoyed several hours of “evil” at Barbarella.)
The SPIN Party. Backstage pass courtesy of Electric Child, whose performance hypnotized the crowd and, if the number of email addresses collected is any indication, turned many of them into new fans. Other highlights were, of course, The Kills with their set of new songs, DJing by Moby, OMD, and TV on the Radio. The latter I like much better in this smaller venue; the first and only other time I saw them was in 2006 when they opened for NIN at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston. Up close, their music is more danceable.
Charlene Kaye at El Mercado. Interview forthcoming! Tried to sit in Auditorium Shores long enough to catch some of Bright Eyes, but the band before, The Felice Brothers, were so not to my liking that I couldn’t stick it out long enough to see the headliner. I don’t understand why The Felice Brothers, from New Paltz, NY, would have Southern-ish accents and sound like Bob Dylan with a backing band and a hangover. Sorry, guys. Didn’t do it for me.
I did hear the beginning of the Bright Eyes show as I was leaving. Lots of spoken stuff, from what I could tell. Felt like I didn’t miss much by leaving.
Decompression. Day of silence. No crowds. A journal. Four dogs. Wristbands off. Relief.
Do you want a solid music blogger to review your performance? Or your CD? (More specifically, do you want ME to review your performance or CD?)
Would you like to be interviewed?
Do you want to help me bend the rules of journalism and blend it with PR?
If you answered yes to any/all of these questions, then get in touch with me. I am pimping out my blog, my opinions, and my writing next week at SXSW.
Here’s how this will work:
- For a $20 donation, I will attend and review your performance. (Note: if you’re playing a showcase that requires a badge, you’ll have to put me on your guest list because I don’t have a badge.) (450 words)
- For a $25 donation, I will review your CD. (500 words)
- For a $40 donation, I will attend and review your performance AND review your CD. (800 words)
- For a $100 donation, I will interview you. (1100 words)*
All of the above include photos. For performance reviews, I will take photos of you playing live, and I will give you copies of the photos for you to use however you want in the future so long as I am credited as the photographer.
I reserve the right to express honest opinions in my reviews. However, as I am not in the business of totally bashing bands that are new to the biz, I also reserve the right to refund your money and not write about you if I feel that I have absolutely nothing positive to say about you.
So, do you want to hire me? Email me: email@example.com [Update 5/1/11 - I no longer use this email address. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lindasusername.]
*You may notice that the charge per word is steeper for interviews. That’s because I have to spend time transcribing the interview after recording it (with your permission, of course), which doubles the workload for me.
You may have noticed that this blog has been dormant since Brian Viglione and Vikka Yermolevya kicked its ass with awesomeness at the end of January. For almost a month now, I’ve been wondering what could possibly top those interviews or at least come close to their level of cool. The bar for this blog seems to have been raised tenfold.
But I have finally arrived at a satisfactory answer: at present, nothing. Nothing comes close to the creativity of conception and excellence of execution of Viggie & Vikka’s concert in Iceland. And fortunately, that’s not my fault. It’s just the state of the music culture at the moment.
With this realization that I’m not to blame for February’s having been a blah month, happening-wise, I feel relieved of the responsibility to write something that equals or surpasses the last three posts. On that note, here is my February recap of what’s been in my ears lately.
Was anyone not a teeny bit excited to hear this song? Was anyone not a teeny bit disappointed by it? The verse is almost note-for-note “Waterfalls”, by TLC, and the chorus can literally be replaced by that of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” because the key and the chord changes are the same. As the Good Book says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Lady GaGa has proven the point.
Catchy tune, lame video. Product placement much? Black Star perfume. Abbey Dawn clothes. Avril’s mom even makes a cameo appearance. Is the princess of pop/punk running out of sassy ideas? (No complaints about the lingerie, however.)
The Wisconsin metal band’s debut, The Onslaught, was the closest thing to a perfect thrash album that the 2000s have produced so far. For Lazarus A.D.’s sophomore effort, the band adopts a slightly more mainstream sound — not quite as furiously fast and featuring (gasp) singing (!). The band admits to having consciously gone in a new direction for this record, which is far from a dismal failure. It’s decent. Solid, even. But it doesn’t capture the same raw purity of its predecessor.
Someone give this girl a Grammy. After hearing her soulful Beatles covers, I knew she could sing. Like, really sing, with a rare combination of deep sincerity and impeccable vocal control. Quite an instrument she has. But when I saw her perform at Webster Hall with her band Firehorse…frankly, she blew my mind. The whole band is outstanding. It’s electro-pop meets rock ‘n’ roll. Fresh and different. And Siegel is one hell of a frontwoman. Like a much, much sexier Barbra Streisand (Siegel’s voice packs that much power and expression) — with a guitar. Go see her. And support the music.
The Beatles – 2009 Remasters
It’s happened. I like the Beatles. I even went so far as to “Like” their Facebook page. But this fact has nothing to do with iTunes and its recently released Beatles collection. It has everything to do with my very latent discovery of the 2009 remastered versions of the Beatles albums, which of course I did not download from iTunes.
Not long ago, I was dutifully listening to Abbey Road for the first time, and I was flabbergasted by how great it sounded. Not only were the songs good (this I already knew, even as a Beatles non-fan), but the sound quality was good, too! A Beatles fanatic friend (and superstar guitarist) Juliana Brown brought to my attention that I was probably listening to a remastered version of the album. Sure enough, she was right. (She usually is, when it comes to Beatles things.)
So, this month, I gave the Beatles a true chance at redemption by downloading the ’09 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band — which had been the first and last Beatles CD I had ever owned, circa 1997. I sold that album, which I had found totally obnoxious and unlistenable, back to the music store within weeks of having received it for Christmas. Until about two days ago, I had remained stubbornly, ignorantly certain that something was wrong with the rest of the world that thought Sgt. Pepper was great. Everyone who believed that had to have been on acid. Or just really gullible. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Emperor’s New Clothes was more like it. The people on the album cover should have been naked. I thought.
I’m sure you can guess where this is going. The difference between the ’97 POS CD Sgt. Pepper and the ’09 remastered Sgt. Pepper is absurd. So drastic that it’s not even worth describing. I no longer hate the album. Matter of fact, I like it.
One of the only beefs I’ll ever have with Michael Jackson (R.I.P.), since I really can’t comment on his private life, is that it took so fucking long to get the Beatles catalog out of his half-gloved hands so that it could be converted into a digital format that does it justice.
I should have just listened to my parents’ LPs.
On the tenth anniversary of the fateful Halloween party in Boston where Amanda Palmer met Brian Viglione, The Dresden Dolls reunited after a two-year hiatus for a sold out show at Irving Plaza. The significance of their first meeting ten years ago was clearer than ever: these two belong together.
Having seen them perform one of their last pre-breakup shows in 2008 and having seen them play separately since (Amanda at the Spiegeltent in NYC in ’08 and Brian with World/Inferno at Hallowmas that same year), and seeing them now together again, I can say with certainty that each are strong musicians and great performers but that something indefinable happens when they take the stage together. Their musical chemistry is electric; the crowd feeds off it, gives it back; the Dolls bounce it right back to the crowd. And what happens is bigger than two people onstage, bigger even than a jam-packed venue of loving fans. For lack of a better word, it’s magic.
As with so many bands whose live show is superior to their (already great) records, you have to see the Dolls perform to fully appreciate what all the fuss is about. Take my word for it. There’s something genius in the simplicity of two percussionists (the piano is a percussion instrument, after all) playing off of each other’s musical cues and body language in a sort of rhythmic dialogue. Brian and Amanda are like twins who anticipate what the other is going to say. And they’re even more in sync now than they were two years ago — it seems the break has left them supercharged.
The Legendary Pink Dots, who Amanda has always cited as her favorite band and number one musical influence, kicked off the show. After their set, a giant screen hid the stage and showed a Halloween-themed movie clip montage while an equally appropriate soundtrack played over the P.A. When “Sweet Transvestite” came on, the audience sang along, complete with Rocky Horror inside-joke callouts (“Say it!!”). It foreshadowed the singing to come.
Girl: I wonder if a lot of Rocky Horror fans are Dolls fans?
Guy: I’m pretty sure there’s some overlap.
When the Dolls appeared, the house erupted. Brian appeared sans Halloween costume (but later revived the Dolls’ trademark bowler hat); Amanda wore something resembling a caped Checkpoint Charlie uniform, the jacket of which was of course eventually ditched in favor of a black lace bra. The duo kissed, the message obvious to those who knew the high tension that split up the band two years ago.
They opened with “Sex Changes” and played for — are you ready for this? — two hours and thirty-five minutes, almost non-stop. The crowd knew every. single. word. of the set, comprising twenty-one songs (by my count), that included five covers:
– “Pirate Jenny” – by Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill (fromThe Threepenny Opera) – Amanda sang it in English
– “Pierre” – by Carole King – with Brian doing the “I don’t care”s
– “Double Rainbow” – from the YouTube phenomenon; it ended with a rainbow of balloons falling from the ceiling
– “Mein Herr” – from Cabaret – with Brian on acoustic guitar and Amanda, in a gold sequined bra, writhing on a platform, stage-right
– “War Pigs” – by Black Sabbath – and it sounded massive with Amanda on piano and Brian’s metal-influenced drumming at its best
They hit all the big Dolls tunes, most of them from the self-titled album and from Yes, Virginia, and they touched on “Glass Slipper” from A is for Accident and two from No, Virginia (“Ultima Esperanza”, “The Kill”). They kept up the theatrics that make watching them so much fun: Brian clowned as the perfect foil for Amanda’s slightly straighter-(wo)man (we use that word “straight” very loosely here). They recruited fans from the audience to sing backup on “The Jeep Song”. They paid tribute to their mutual friend Sean, who was in the audience and who brought Brian to Amanda’s Halloween party ten years ago. (The audience sent up cries of “Thank you, Sean!” to him on the balcony.) They received “boo”s when Amanda mentioned wrapping up the show. (“Don’t be idiotic,” she said. “We’re obviously going to do an encore.”)
And they played a five-song encore.
Only then was the audience reluctantly willing to let them go — and only because we know that, this time, it won’t be two years before we see them together again.
In addition to Girl in a Coma, another San Antonio trio played Brooklyn this past week: Pop Pistol, who made their NYC debut at Trash Bar on Tuesday September 28. The band consists of guitarist and vocalist Alex Scheel, bassist George Garza, and drummer Jorge Gonzalez. All three contribute either synths or samples to the studio recordings, a sound that’s replicated live by a backing track. Say what you will about using pre-recorded playback; it works for Pop Pistol by adding a sort of surprise to their onstage appearance. “Where’s the keyboard?” is a question that onlookers commonly ask, as the band generates sonic layers richer than their three-piece composition would lead one to expect.
Frontman Scheel sings with his eyes closed. After the show, he explains that, during the set he imagined the Brooklyn Bridge and other famous New York landmarks that he and his bandmates — all in their mid-twenties — had seen that day for the first time. ”To me, New York is like the only city in the world,” Scheel says. “Being here is like killing a fantasy.”
What is it about New York — about music in New York — that from the outside gleams like a city on a hill, yet on the inside hungers for new things from elsewhere? Here bands are a dime a dozen. Indie music-philes pride themselves in knowing where a non-NY band is from — and the more obscure the place of origin, the better. (For example, the fact that thrash maestros Lazarus A.D. hail from Kenosha, Wisconsin, makes them seem all the more special when they blow away the veteran German headliners at the Nokia/Best Buy Theater in Times Square.) Ironically, though, for musicians who live in other cities, being a big fish in a small pond only seems good enough if eventually New York notices you. Getting to New York is hard, but getting New York’s attention can be harder — even if you already live here.
Scheel likens being in New York to “killing a fantasy,” but really there’s a mystique to wherever one is not at the time or hasn’t been. And so I wrap up San Antonio Week in Brooklyn with this: Pop Pistol and Girl in a Coma — thank you for visiting. Rock on, and know that this niche of New York knows who you are.
Original Hipster declares this San Antonio Week in Brooklyn! Why? Because last night, SA band Pop Pistol played Trash Bar, and on Saturday, SA superstars Girl in a Coma play the Music Hall of Williamsburg (and their show is sold out!).
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Pop Pistol — including the reason why lead singer and guitarist Alex Scheel sings with his eyes closed — and on GIAC, whose bassist Jenn Alva I’ll be talking with on Friday.
Yesterday my friend Linda declared it “SAN ANTONIO WEEK IN BROOKLYN” and I figured that I really had to step it up. So I stole my roommate’s car and drove down into the subway screaming “S.A. IN THE B.K.!” and parked it on the track but no ghost children moved it and then the F train came and it turned into a big thing. Tomorrow I re-enact the Alamo down at Rockefeller center.
Ok, folks, here’s the long and short of it. I am dying to see Ozzy Osbourne and Halford play Madison Square Garden on December 1. I had a brief encounter with the Ozzman earlier this year, but I’ve never seen him perform live. I’d love to. And let’s face it, he’s not getting any younger. Who knows how many more opportunities like this one there will be?
Anyway, if you know me at all, you know that I have been broke all year. The job market hasn’t been kind to this Original Hipster, and my overdrawn bank account can’t fund a concert ticket (among other things). But I really want to go to that show.
Now, before you call me a beggar, consider: have I ever written about your music for free? Have I promoted your show? Have I recommended a band that now you’re really glad you know about? Heck, have I made you crack a smile?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, I invite you to click this button:
If your answer to any of these questions is no, please also click the button. To give you an idea of how easy and affordable this can be–if everyone who viewed my blog in the last two days would donate $1 each, I could buy a concert ticket. That’s right. $1.
Here’s what I can offer in return.
- I will go to the concert. I will take photos, even if photos aren’t allowed. I will write about the show and post my photos on this blog. I will try to weasel my way backstage (it’s worked a couple times before) and will relate the tale to you all.
- For the reader who donates the most, I will write a blog post about whoever and whatever you want. If you have a band, I’ll write about it. If you have a pet, I’ll interview it. Whatever you want. (That said, if I deem your proposed blog post to be offensively immoral or illegal or completely contrary to my personal ethics, the deal’s off. This is a lighthearted blog, for goodness’ sake.)
Did I mention my birthday is next month?
So, thank you in advance–both for reading and, hopefully, for donating $1 (or more). Let’s see how this experiment works!
Update 9/19/10 — If I don’t get enough donations to buy a ticket, I will issue refunds of all donations. In other words, I promise not to spend the money on anything other than the proposed cause.