Category Archives: shows

Show report: New Pornographers at the Orpheum

New Pornographers played the Orpheum last night.

  • Boston’s “Foreplay” on the sound system before the band comes on.  Comes off as witty.
  • On the records Dan Bejar’s singing doesn’t stand out as much as it does live.  Something about the way he approaches the microphone makes him look like he’s always about to rap rather than sing.  Bejar leaves the stage during the songs he’s not singing.  This seems churlish to me.  He couldn’t just stand there and bang a tambourine on his hip?
  • “My Slow Descent into Alcoholism,” the best song they ever wrote — probably my favorite song anybody released last decade — appears in the encore.  It is great, but all live versions lack the precision which is part of the glory of the studio version — precision married to absolutely unmoderated rocking-out-ness.  See: 
  • Kathryn Calder, once an occasional vocal stand-in for Neko Case, is now a full member of the band, playing keyboards and singing backup.  Both facially and in manner she reminds me very powerfully of Doris Finsecker.



  • Show ends with “Testament to Youth in Verse.”  Openers the Dodos come on stage, everybody’s singing the big “no no no…” at the end of the song, swaying, waving goodbye, drinking beers.  The cellist in the back picks up a saxophone.  It’s an almost exact replica of the credit sequence of Saturday Night Live. On purpose?
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Sleepytime Gorilla Museum: Origin Story

The cast of Cats is locked in a room.  They are there for a long time.  Deprived of an audience their theater becomes steadily more vivid, gestural, and non-referential.  To a certain degree it ferments. Thus it acquires a rotten taste but also a depth and richness it lacked previously.

The actors and singers begin to believe they are receiving messages.  Maybe from the outside, maybe from each other.  They are required to retransmit these messages:  sometimes in the form of a roar, sometimes as a jerk or spasm.

Some members of the troupe are slow to learn the new theater.  They drop beats and misreport their lines.

The strong consume the weak until only five are left.

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Mountain Goats have sold out the High Noon

Nothing ever sells out here. I’m proud of Madison. And looking forward to the start of the show.

Update. Home from the show.  A few notes.

  • JD is an interesting guitar player but a boring piano player.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen him play with a full band since, I dunno, 2004?  I like the rocking-out full-band Mountain Goats better than the hushed one-guy-with-guitar Mountain Goats.  But best of all I like the rocking-out one-guy-with-guitar Mountain Goats.
  • So I have a theory that the correct way to listen to Mountain Goats music is not to play the record, or to see him perform, but to play the songs on guitar in your room by yourself.  Given this you’d think I’d approve of the many people singing along at this show, but I did not.  It was annoying.
  • John Darnielle and Persi Diaconis do the same oversized “I’ve won this crowd over” grin.
  • Opener was Final Fantasy, kind of like Andrew Bird if instead of one guy he was two guys.  Violin guy Owen Pallett backed up JD for a sort of great pizzicatified “Going to Bristol,” the only old number on the setlist.
  • Songs I thought I might hear and was sad not to hear:  “Palmcorder Yajna,” “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton.”  Songs I knew I wouldn’t hear:  “Sinaloan Milk Snake Song.”  “Deianara Crush.”  “The Monkey Song.” “Going to Marrakesh.”
  • Looking through the Wikipedia Mountain Goats pages I’m amused to find my own name, credited with translating the Swedish phrases in the liner notes to Sweden.  I didn’t translate them but I did get them translated, by the Swedish guy who ran the Calla Lily Cafe, where Cathy O’Neil and I used to study Milne’s article on abelian varieties every morning when we were in grad school.
  • I was going to link to a Mountain Goats track here, but something he played made me think of another song I really love: “Radio Silence,” the single from Soviet rock god Boris Grebenshikov’s unsuccessful 1989 attempt to break into the English-language alternative pop market.  He should have made it!
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Road trip!

Steve was talking about the future of poetry at the Twin Cities Book Fest this weekend, so CJ and I hopped up for the weekend to see him and his family.  A few notes:

  • Priceline works!  I’ve never used them before, I suppose because it’s rare I’m traveling not for work and not staying with relatives.  I worried there’d be no free rooms Saturday night with a Twins-Yankees playoff game the next day; but in fact Priceline found us a $60 room at the Holiday Inn Metrodome.  Why were there still rooms available next door to the stadium?  Because, as Steve explained, the Twins reserve most playoff tickets for locals, with only 3,000 seats available to New York fans.  I both approve of this practice (on grounds that it sticks it to New York fans) and disapprove (on grounds that stadium owners extract all kinds of concessions from cities and states with the promises of massive hotel, bar, and restaurant sales to visiting fans, and surely the city of Minneapolis forwent a pile of revenue from Yankee fans who would have been staying in CJ’s and my hotel room, had they been able to get tickets for the game.)
  • The crowd in the lobby Saturday night was about equally mixed between belogoed Gopher fans, the afterparty from a hotel wedding, and ravenous zombies.  Lots of aggression between the beeriest groomsmen and the most in-character zombies, which looked like it might get physical; rather than witness this CJ and I tucked ourselves into our big comfy bed and watched the Discovery Channel until we fell asleep.  We learned a lot about walnuts.
  • You probably already know this, but if you’re driving from Madison to Minneapolis you should stop at Norske Nook in Osseo and get pie.  They sell other food but it’s little more than an unneccesary delay of pie.
  • I never found out what the future of poetry was, but if it has one it will surely involve Minneapolis-based Coffee House Press, which, per the chatter at the book people party Saturday night, is one of the few literary entries everybody in po-biz endorses and admires.  Buy some books!
  • We made it back to Madison about 15 minutes before the start of yesterday’s all-ages They Might Be Giants show at the Barrymore.  It’s twenty years, to the month I think, since I first saw them play.  I thought there would be a lot of eight-year-olds there but the crowd actually skewed younger than CJ.  Maybe the eight-year-olds were up in the mosh pit.  Spirited short set, almost all drawn from the kids’ records — very nice, though, to hear a bit of “The Famous Polka.” Assertion:  the songs from the standard TMBG catalogue that read as kids’ songs (“Istanbul not Constantinople,” “Particle Man,” “Why Does the Sun Shine?” “Dr. Worm,” “Older”) are better kids’ songs than the official kids’ songs.  Discuss in comments.
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Show report: Micachu, Chairlift

Looking at Pitchfork’s 500 best songs of 2000-2009 made me realize that, while I listen to a lot of new records, I don’t listen to very many new records by new bands.  So I’m trying to stop in on some of the many free Union Terrace shows by presumable up-and-comers.  Last night I saw Micachu, a young Englishwoman who plays a kind of insistent, dissonant, stop-and-start pop on a modified 3/4-size guitar, and who sneers like Elvis when she sings.  I admired this without really liking it.  Headlining was Chairlift, from Brooklyn via U Colorado.  I liked that the lead singer dresses like a hippie while the guitarist dresses like a late-Soviet arena rocker (see also: Grammar.)  But all in all it seemed there was a lot of atmospheric keyboard, a lot of echo on the drums, a lot of frowny rock face from the singer, and not a lot of songs.  I didn’t stay for the big hit, “Bruises.”

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Show report: Gomers/Dandys/Breeders

I’ve gotten a bit backed up on rock show reports:  here are a few capsules.

The Gomers. Rock Star Gomeroke:  simple idea, brilliantly executed.  Local band knows more or less every song ever.  You go up on stage at the High Noon, tell them your song (specifying, if you want to, the key, tempo, that you want to sing “Beat It” polka-style, whatever) and then you sing like a loon, backed up by the pros.  Every Tuesday night at 9, every other Friday at 5.  It costs 5 bucks.  For the nervous types, of whom I am one:  performers vary widely in on-key-ness and stage moxie.  And thanks to the lights you can’t actually see the people watching you.  Up-tempo and big goes over better than delicate and nuanced.  I’ve been twice:  I sang “Pretty in Pink,” the week John Hughes died, and “Just What I Needed” last week.  The latter is available on video for my Facebook friends.

Cover bands don’t have enough status.  We accept as a given that the great plays and symphonies are part of our cultural inheritance, and that groups of performers should perform them for us — that the works being presented and interpreted again and again, in different places and forms, is part of what keeps them alive.  Why don’t we have troupes of rock musicians performing Led Zeppelin IV in its entirety, every Monday night for a month?  Wouldn’t this be more enjoyable, and teach us more about rock, than nine out of ten sort-of-original rock shows that actually take place?  I think the Gomers are great and I think the city of Madison should give them a grant to form a repertory company.  On the other hand, they seem to be doing fine for themselves dressing up as zombies and playing Beatles covers.

The Dandy Warhols. All I knew about this band was “they recorded the theme song for Veronica Mars” before I watched the surprisingly gripping documentary DIG! about their half-comedy, half-depressing-waste-of-time feud with the Brian Jonestown Massacre.  (Watch DIG! free on Hulu.)  Their show at the Majestic was free, sponsored by Jack Daniels, who I guess are trying to up their cool factor by affiliating with a band whose last US chart appearance was in 2000.  All their songs sort of sound like other people’s songs — at various times I felt they were about to launch in to “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” or “Lithium,” or “White Wedding,” or, on multiple occasions, “Sister Ray.”  You get the feeling that the band’s method is to start playing a cover and then keep damaging it until it’s their own song.

And this formula is 100% successful, just because these people are professionals and know what sounds good.  As frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor wonderfully remarks in the movie, “I sneeze and hits come out.”

The Breeders. I was disturbed — no, really, disturbed! — when I realized I was familiar with only 42 of Pitchfork’s top 500 songs of the decade.  I like to think I keep up.  But what’s in fact meant by this is that I follow the current output of lots of bands who’ve been recording since the 1990s:  the Mountain Goats, the Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian, and the Breeders.

And the Breeders might as well be a new band — they record so seldom that each new release sounds like a debut.   Here’s the great “Overglazed,” from their most recent album, which doesn’t sound a thing like old Breeders, or really like anybody:

Their set at the Majestic was heavy on old stuff, to the delight of the crowd.  Who knew so many people remembered “Iris,” or “Divine Hammer?”  The latter sounded terrific, drummed much more frantically than on record.  Kim and Kelley Deal both seemed, well, tickled to be on stage playing with their new bandmates.  You get the feeling they’ll be doing this until they’re 70, sloughing off and replacing the rhythm section every decade or so.  I’ll keep seeing them as long as they keep playing.

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Show report: Fountains of Wayne

Several thoughts about Fountains of Wayne, who played last night at the High Noon.

  • Very old crowd.  Oldest crowd I’ve been in since I saw the Bangles.  But the Bangles were really popular more than twenty years ago, and Fountains of Wayne had their biggest hit (“Stacy’s Mom”) in 2003.  So why was everybody so old?
  • They played an amplified acoustic set, which isn’t the best fit for them.  Intense production and sonic variety is part of the Fountains of Wayne sound.  Many of their songs, when strummed, sound alike.
  • But the standouts, as they ought to, stood out:  “Stacy’s Mom,” “Bright Future in Sales,” “Red Dragon Tattoo,” and, above all, the magnificent “Radiation Vibe.”  It is one of the great rock mysteries that this absolutely flawless piece of 1990s slightly grunge-tinged powerpop, backed by a major label, wasn’t a massive hit.  Last night the band played this as a medley with “Jet Airliner,” “Carry on My Wayward Son,” and “Reunited,” delivered with exactly the right mix of giggle and respect.  Except “Reunited.” That was all giggle.
  • Now’s my chance to point out that “Bright Future in Sales” features the slickest use of internal rhyme in rock lyrics I know:

I think I had a

black wallet in my

back pocket, with a

bus ticket, and a picture of my baby inside


  • “Stacy’s Mom” started out listless and loungy, as if they were taking the piss out of their only hit.  But it ended up someplace kind of stately and great, like what the song would have been if it were supposed to be fake Big Country instead of fake Cars.  I like the original version better, but I like the Cars a lot more than I like Big Country.
  • The band’s namesake, a New Jersey furniture store,  just closed.
  • If I were the kind of guy who wrote 30,000 word essays about cultural capital in rock music — OK, let’s face it, I aspire to be that kind of guy — I would write one about the confusing role of funniness in rock music.  Some funny bands, like Fountains of Wayne and They Might Be Giants, are ghettoized as semi-novelty acts because so much of their act relies on lyrical cleverness and whimsy.    Others, like the Divine Comedy and the Magnetic Fields, are valorized as latter-day Cole Porters on essentially the same grounds.  What’s the difference?  Extra credit questions:  what about Robyn Hitchcock?  And is it true, as people I kind of trust have told me, that the Barenaked Ladies are actually really great?

Too much deep thought.  Time to listen to “Radiation Vibe” again.

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Fair Harvard holds sway

Yale went into their 125th meeting with Harvard boasting the stingiest defense in the NCAA, allowing just 10.6 points per game. And the defense did their part, holding Harvard to 10 points — but Harvard was even better, shutting Yale’s offense down completely for a 10-0 victory and another Ivy title.

It was the 40th anniversary of Harvard’s most famous Game victory, the 1968 “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29” game, the subject of a well-reviewed documentary playing now in cities where old Crimson and Elis cluster.

In other Harvard fandom news, the pre-Game pep rally, featuring a concert by mashup-act Girl Talk, was shut down by Harvard police when the crowd pressed too closely into the vicinity of the performer. I’ve never felt more old and out of touch than I did at Girl Talk’s show at UW. I thought he was boring and drab, especially after the magnificence of Man Man, his opening act. But clearly there’s something about what he’s doing that causes people really to want to press their sweaty selves against his laptop, in numbers as large as possible.

If you, like me, aren’t in a city where “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29” is showing, you can watch the highlights of the game on YouTube:

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Show report: The Magnetic Fields, Overture Center

  • I told the sitter we were going to see Magnetic Fields tonight, and she said, “I think my mom listens to them.”
  • Having a slightly wry This American Life – style spoken-word duo open for a rock band was a good idea, but not wholly successful in practice.
  • Claudia played piano, not drums, and the band played the whole show seated (except when Claudia stood on the piano bench to sing her part of “Yeah, Oh Yeah.” Some songs (especially “Three-way”) revealed interesting new stuff when played softly, others (“Too Drunk To Dream”) just sounded bounceless compared to the record.
  • Something I’d never noticed before about Magnetic Fields — how often they arrange the lines so that you have to sing the stress on the wrong syllable of the word. I wonder if this is an intentional act of aggression against the singer? They especially like to force a stress on the “ing” at the end of a participle.
  • They seem more serious than they used to. No sloppy covers. Mrs. Q said Stephin looked like he was at work, and I think that’s about right.

In which I am ahead of the curve on Carsick Cars

In the summer of 2005 I was in Beijing for John Coates’s 60th birthday conference. Mrs. Tom Scocca, then and now a Beijing expat, wrote me one afternoon and asked me if I wanted to go to a punk rock show.

I always want to go to a punk rock show!

I met Mrs. TS in the neighborhood of Beijing University. There was a record store next door; I managed gesturally to convey to the salesman that I wanted to buy some CDs, but to express any more exactly what I wanted was impossible, especially since I had no idea exactly what I wanted. The salesman solved the problem by holding up CDs, one by one, and identifying their English-language counterparts: “Chinese U2.” “Chinese The Cure.” “Chinese R.E.M.” Chinese R.E.M. sounded great, so I bought the PK 14 album thus identified: not at all like R.E.M., it turns out, but dreamy, loud, and worthwhile.

The punk rock show: a small audience, about half Chinese and half Western, watched a sequence of noisy indie rock acts. The best single moment was provided by the Angry Jerks, from Nanjing, who covered “You Think You’re A Man” with the appropriate fervency. (That is to say, a lot of fervency.) But the standout band was Carsick Cars, who opened with a buzzed-out cover of “Sunday Morning” that only gradually became recognizable — and then became unrecognizable again. They closed with a great, pounding shouty track, “Zhong Nan Hai.”

And now I get this month’s Paste, and Carsick Cars are the lead story! Apparently they’re now the kings of Beijindie. And “Zhong Nan Hai” is their signature number. Here they are, playing it:

If you like that, there’s more Carsick Cars streaming here. These days they sound a little less noise, a little more like The Clean. Even better!

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