July 2014: Festivals Galore

Beck – Devils Haircut - This was my third year going to the Pitchfork Festival, and I've definitely started to notice some trends. The most obvious to me is the sometimes stark difference in quality of performance between the older artists and the younger ones. It's not necessarily that the music is any better, but that the older artists seem to A. Have had more experience performing, and B. Actually care more about putting on a good show. I'm not sure what accounts for the blasé veneer that a lot of younger artists seem to plaster on. I can only guess that some just haven't yet figured out that they need to, you know, put on a show.

Beck very (very very) clearly does not have that issue. Like many, if not most, of the people waiting excitedly for Beck to come on stage Friday night, I was anticipating his mellower side, in line with the most recent Morning Phase. As if he could read our collective minds in advance, Beck came on stage and ripped into the guitar line that starts this classic, decidedly non-mellow banger. I knew he was going to be good, but I was still blown away. He and his incredible band hit almost all of the colors in the Beck rainbow, prompting Gabe to remark, "He's, like, the music tamer. Whatever style he does he masters." His singing sounded better than I thought possible, and on top of the skill he and his band exhibited, the sound their instruments produced was noticeably better than anything else I heard at the festival. What a class act. 

Noura Mint Seymali – Eguetmar - I got to see this phenomenal singer from Mauritania live at Millenium Park a few weeks back, and the attention she's been getting from the likes of NPR has not been hyperbole. In addition to her absolutely electric singing, the guitarist in her four-piece (husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly) is phenomenal - making use of a guitar outfitted with extra frets! (Check out the picture!) There's a nice article about them over on Noisey. Going home on the Metra after the show I overheard two couples talking about the show, with one couple saying that they really liked the opening group (reggae) and found Noura Mint Seymali "educational." I was kind of shocked by this derogatory comment, but I guess this music isn't for everyone. Philistines. 

Siba – Canoa Furada - Leaking Canoe - As promised in last month's post, I've been giving a lot of ear time to this album from Brazilian pioneer Siba. True fusion music in all the best ways. And tuba. Tuba. Oh I love that tube. Siba's a great guitarist too.  In a video here on the BBC website, Siba talks about the roots of his music (a hybrid of rock, sounds from his native northeastern Brazil, African guitar music, and more) and the influence of the '90s "mangue bit" movement, which prizes sharing and diversity. 

Чиж & Co – Капель - To keep up with new stuff popping up on Spotify, I occasionally troll this website. On a recent visit, the list of new things included a ton of Russian music, which seemed kind of odd. After digging a little, I think that it probably has to do with the recent arrival of Spotify in Russia. I sent a bunch of stuff to Steve to get his reaction. As he pointed out, a lot of it is really pretty bad. There's some great stuff seeded throughout, though, included Cheech and Co., which Steve said was one of the few bands he had actually heard of. I've been trying to find a spot for this in the last few month's lists, but finally decided to stick it this month in honor of Steve and Ingrid's brand new baby boy, Pavel. This one's for you, you little overcooked muffin. 

Protomartyr – Bad Advice - I just barely missed seeing this Detroit quartet play before Death at West Fest this year. That's a shame, because listening to the album afterward I realized it probably would have been a great show. I remember the All Songs Considered guys describing them as looking like a band of teenagers fronted by their middle-aged gym teacher, or something like that. I like to think of this song as something by the National if they were pissed-off drunks. 

Ry Cooder – Cherry Ball Blues - What can I say? Regular readers know I've got a serious chubby for Ry. All month I've been rotating this vinyl I bought in Memphis a while back, and have haven't seen before or since anywhere else. Rootsy and funky. I really should try to see him live, huh? Okay. 

The Modern Jazz Quartet – Trav'lin' - Live At Lincoln Center - This album has been my go-to for working all month long. 

The Runaways – Cherry Bomb - I'm almost embarrassed to admit the amount of excited anticipation I held leading up to the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie this month. The absurdity of this boyish glee is eclipsed however by the amount of money and energy that went into seeing it with Gabe, a saga sprinkled with emergency flights to New Jersey for a sick grandmother, the vicissitudes of buying movie tickets on a mobile device, sold out Monday night movies, etc. All in all, we collectively purchased 9 movie tickets (two of them to see Lucy when GoG was sold out), in order for me to see it once by myself and once with her. No matter! The movie's great, and prominently features this snotty piece of bubble-gum along with other '70s hits. Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-CHERRY BOMB!

Sbtrkt – NEW DORP. NEW YORK - As daffy and abstract as the lyrics are, there's something so immediately charming and magnetic about this single from the forthcoming new Sbtrkt album. WIth Ezra Koenig at the mic, it really does sound like it could be a new Vampire Weekend song. A few years ago that probably wouldn't have been the case, but VW made such a tremendous leap with their last album that it's not hard to imagine them sounding any of a dozen ways. 

Tweedy – Diamond Light - There was a period of probably about three years when Wilco was far and away my favorite band. After A ghost is born, though, all of the things that I loved about their music (the sonic experimentation, the textured abstract lyrics) receded in place of facile sentimentality, yacht rock mushiness, and jam-band worthy wank. I know I'm not alone in my disappointment. I have a theory about Jeff Tweedy, that although he presents to the world as a singular auteur type, his music is heavily influenced by his collaborators. I don't think it's an accident that the quality of the music nosedived with the departure of pop-genius Jay Bennett. With this in mind, I've been really curious to see what happened when he teamed up with his teenage son, Spencer, for this new Tweedy (the band) album. There have been a number of singles from the album trickling out, and although there is a certain amount of the sentimush happening, the overall feel is certainly sharper, weirder, more unexpected than recent Wilco outings. This song, in particular, is not afraid to eschew any kind of easy "groove" and the lyrics don't seem to contain tired metaphors about love. I like to think that, working with his own son, Jeff Tweedy's penchant for succumbing to the aesthetics of collaborators is disrupted, and he's working in a sort of feedback loop of his own tendencies and influences. Personally, I think this is a good thing for him. Ironically, the figurehead for what the press has dubbed "dad rock" gets squarely outside of that bland swamp by capitalizing on his actual dad-ness. Oh, also, Spencer Tweedy is a pretty cool drummer. 

Hundred Waters – Murmurs - Hundred Waters was the first band to play at Pitchfork this year, and they were on stage when I got there Friday afternoon. I was struck by the serenity of the place, and realized that this was probably the only time during the festival that a non-headlining act would have the whole park to themselves. It's conventional wisdom that it's kind of drag for a band to play in this spot, but I actually liked the whole vibe and thought they were the perfect band to warm up the festival. 

Hurray For The Riff Raff – The New SF Bay Blues - My dad, who performs as part of a children's folk music duo (Fox and Branch), has had a remarkable summer of music, playing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and then traveling to play and hang out in Louisiana. His enthusiasm and glee for music seem to actually be increasing as he gets older, perhaps especially now that he's retired from teaching and just does music full time. This already high enthusiasm hit peak levels during phone reports from the road, including descriptions of all kinds of great music he and his partner Will heard and musicians they got to talk to. Although I'd heard the name of this New Orleans-based act around, I didn't know exactly what she was about until my dad raved about her. This song, in particular, came up as an example during a conversation we had about how artists can "steal" songs, but still give credit to the originator (in this case Jesse Fuller). 

The Como Mamas – Old Landmark - On the shuttle bus between the Winnipeg Folk Festival fairgrounds and the artist hotel, my dad got to talking with one of the women in this great a cappella gospel trio from Como, MS. He was delighted and proud of the deep conversation that they had about Mississippi music, stating with some authority that there was probably no one else at the festival that could have had that conversation. As is obvious in my interview with him, there is an ocean of knowledge about American folk music accumulated in that bald head of his. "Yeah dad, you're an elder statesmen now," I told him. After a moment (during which I imagined him quickly making peace with being called old), he agreed - "Yeah, I guess you're right." Damn right!

Bush Tetras – Too Many Creeps - I got hooked on the AMC show Halt and Catch Fire, which is about a group of people developing a new PC in Texas in the early '80s. I stumbled on a series of Spotify playlists that the show's music directors made, one for each of the main characters. I love this conceit, and in addition to doing a great job of representing the characters, the playlists are actually a wealth of great music from that era. This song, which I'd never heard (or heard of the band) before, comes from the list for Cameron Howe, the young, rough-around-the-edges punky programming genius. It's perfect for a young woman who tries her best to come off as tough and prickly but is constantly trying to find her place in that world. Great song. Great show. Checkit!

Danny Brown – Grown Up - Before Gabe and I walked over to check out Danny Brown's set at Pitchfork, Helean warned her that he's known for being sexual on stage. Two songs in, she turned to me and stated, deadpan - "He's kind of risqué, huh?" Understatement of the week. Actually, I was disappointed by the fact that he seemed to be sticking to the "smoke/drink - put your booty in the air" end of the spectrum, considering that on record there's a lot more depth and complexity to his lyrics, like in this song for example. Oh well. 

FKA twigs – Water Me - Each year it becomes clearer that big music festivals are a young person's game. I've still got the stamina to zip and jet if I want to, but this year at Pitchfork I decided to take it a bit easier. All in all, I think it added up to a more enjoyable experience, but it did mean missing some acts I would have liked to see, including FKA Twigs. Considering the originality and skill in a song like this, though, I doubt it will be my last chance to see her in Chicago. I'm looking forward to checking out her recently released full-length debut.

Bryan Adams – Run To You - This song got planted firmly in my brain for a couple days after an offhand comment from my favorite four-year old. "Stay there, Josh - I'm going to run to you." Jeeze. Thanks a lot, brain.