Saturday, April 28, 2012

Trampled Under Turtles’ Feet

The Paradise Rock Club, Boston, 4/18/12 (Another Sick Frank photo)

I saw some rockin’ bluegrass last week at The Paradise courtesy of Trampled By Turtles. It was the third time I’d see the string-slinging quintet from Minnesota, but the first time I’d seen them performing standing up, which clearly put extra kick in their boots. Of particular note was Ryan Young’s alternatively frenetic and hauntingly forlorn fiddle. Young sparred playfully with Erik Berry’s lickety-split mando melodies and machine gun-like chording. When all five musicians put pedal to metal they accelerated into an acoustic rave up that would’ve made The Yardbirds proud.

The ecstatic sell-out crowd was well familiar with the Turtles’ catalog, singing along with singer/guitarist Dave Simonett on many old faves (e.g., “Codeine,” “Darkness and the Light” and “Wait So Long”), while fervently persistent in their unrequited requests for others (“Whiskey”). It’s worth noting too that six songs from the just-released Stars and Satellites record fit right in with the Turtles’ classics, despite the overall mellower tone of the new collection.

For the uninitiated, the cumulative sound of Trampled By Turtles live suggests something like the Del McCoury Band meets Uncle Tupelo with a dash of Fisherman’s Blues-era Waterboys and a pinch of Ramones. All that is to say that not only do these guys have the authentic bluegrass chops to hold their own at any ’grass fest, an earned maturity and confidence means they comfortably and effectively transcend the genre. They were right at home in rock environs and they ripped the joint.

The Turtles really hit stride a few songs in with “It’s a War,” from their great 2010 release Palomino, and the intensity rarely waned—whether they were playing fast or slow—for the remainder of the 100 minute set. They concluded the main set with a jangley, R.E.M.-ish rendition of “Separate,” followed by a buoyantly rousing “Wait So Long” and an epic “Alone,” the latter featuring all five members of openers These United States joining in on backing vocals. The North Country quintet returned for a frenzied run through “Feet and Bones” before signing off with a somber, lonesome-fiddle fueled “Again.”     

The Paradise Rock Club, Boston, Mass.  4/18/12
Midnight on the Interstate
Help You
Widower’s Heart
New Orleans
It’s a War
The Darkness and the Light
(?) Still in Love with You 
High Water
Don’t Look Down
Bloodshot Eyes
Walt Whitman
Wait So Long
Feet and Bones

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nope, Not Intoxicated at All!

I first came across this video when it was referred to in an article on Paid Content. The story detailed the copyright issue EMI asserted over the posting of this police cruiser surveillance video on YouTube after it was submitted as evidence in the legal proceedings related to the incident preceding the footage.

Seriously? I know EMI is a huge (read, idiotic) corporation passively overseeing the demise of a dying enterprise, but surely even the suits who once ruled Britannia’s recording biz must realize that this viral video phenomenon can do nothing but possibly prompt the sale of a few more copies of Queen’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Anyway, all that aside, the video is entertaining. It can’t possibly have helped the defendant’s case in court. But forgive the singing and you have to admire his unimpaired memory and perseverant rendition of the tune Wayne and co. immortalized in another backseat performance.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wild Flag’s Pop Power

Wild Flag: Mary Timony, Janet Weiss, Rebecca Cole and Carrie Brownstein

I saw a very good performance by Wild Flag at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club tonight (the new band’s third Beantown appearance in just over a year). These ladies really know how to nail melodies – not just on record but live, too. Tonight’s show was a little less punky indie rock and, somewhat surprisingly, a bit more neo-psychedelic at points than I expected.

I loved last year’s debut album, but some of the video clips I had seen of live performances (undoubtedly from their early gigs; they’ve been together little more than a year) seemed very energetic, but less nuanced in the playing and melodic sensibilities (which are a major part of the band’s allure). But, tonight, the power pop prevailed.

The harmony vox were exceptional, expertly handled by keyboardist Rebecca Cole and drummer Janet Weiss, providing a soaring sweetness to the sound while also instrumentally delivering a gritty verve that energized frontline. Cole, in particular, was impressive in providing a vibrant undercurrent of keys, but her backing vocals practically carried the band. Then again, Weiss’ drumming almost stole the show. I’m tempted to say she’s the best woman drummer I’ve ever seen; not because that qualification is needed, but because female rock drummers are a rarity. Suffice to say she’s a great rock drummer: period. That notion is supported by the fact that she has been an in-demand guest on many albums since her days with Sleater-Kinney.

Fellow S-K alum, singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein is undoubtedly the most well-known of this Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.-based quartet, not only because of that previous bands’ noteworthiness, but nowadays even more so for her key role in the IFC show, Portlandia, in which she co-stars with SNL’s Fred Armison.

Brownstein and Mary Timony, formerly of Helium, trade off both lead guitar and lead vocal duties. Brownstein’s singing is more distinctive, but Timony, though more traditional in approach, is no slouch. Guitar wise, their styles are also different, but very complementary. Before tonight’s concert, I was more familiar with Brownstein’s approach, but I was really impressed by Timony’s melodic, neck-traversing leads. All together, the band reminded me of a more urgent and feminine version of Television (think “Friction”), and not just because they performed “See No Evil” during the encore.

Having only one album to draw upon, and not expecting them to dip very deeply into their previous bands’ catalogs, I wasn’t anticipating a terribly long performance (the roughly 75 minute show was fitting and satisfying). There were a couple of new songs performed, though not identified as such.

This audience video (not mine) features a snippet of Carrie Brownstein’s new song (“Can’t Fill the Void with the Void” maybe?), the most bluesy sound of the evening.

Overall, the 16-song set was well-paced, though it did seem to take three or four tunes to get the energy level fully amped up. (Brownstein, sipping tea throughout, mentioned that she had a sore throat and fading voice, but her singing was powerful and unaffected for the most part.) The band really hit stride on “Boom.” It was soon followed by a pleasantly surprising extended jam on “Glass Tambourine” – one of the aforementioned neo-psychadelic moments, conjuring hints of Hendrix and Traffic.

Other stand outs included “Future Crimes,” “Racehorse” (the other really extended jam, this one a bit too long perhaps) and the set closer “Romance.” They finished off with an encore of “Endless Talk,” the previously cited Television cover “See No Evil” and a spirited version of Fugazi’s “Margin Walker.”

I can’t wait to hear Wild Flag’s next release and see them again.

Set List: The Paradise Rock Club, Boston 3/31/12
Electric Band
Short Version
Black Tiles
Winter Pair
Something Came Over Me
Glass Tambourine
new Carrie song: Can’t Fill the Void with the Void — maybe
new Mary song: Cool Reaction — maybe
Future Crimes

Endless Talk
See No Evil (Television cover)
Margin Walker (Fugazi cover)