Monthly Archives: October 2013

Neil Young’s Bridge Benefit Concert 10/26/13, Mountain View CA

Dates: October 26, 2013

Location: Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View CA


Say goodnight, Neil and Pegi!


 Now, here’s a real booking coup! R&B/blues legend Jimmy Reed played Neil Young’s 27th Bridge School Benefit over the Oct. 26-27 weekend, held as always at Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheatre. Not really, of course, since Reed died in 1976. But somebody had the good sense to play Reed’s greatest hits in most of the dead time between sets. So “Big Boss Man, “Bright Lights Big City,” and “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” along with all the others, filled every crack of Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheatre during the two-day extravaganza to raise money for the Bridge School, the pet project of Neil and Pegi Young.

 The lineup for Saturday evening was one of the most solid within memory, featuring Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Queens Of The Stone Age, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Jack Johnson, fun, Heart and Jenny Lewis. If there’s anything to criticize about the Bridge concerts, it’s that the performance roster is just a little too long. It’s like that old conundrum, would you rather have two steak dinners or three? Then again, the unwieldy lineup keeps the sets nice and short with a sharp focus, never a bad thing.

 As he always does, Neil Young kicks things off at 5:00 pm on Saturday afternoon with a three-song appetizer that includes his own gem “Heart Of Gold” and a hackle-raising performance of some other fella’s tune, “Blowin’ In The Wind.” It was especially welcome if, like me, you’d just been playing The Other Side Of The Mirror, the DVD of Bob Dylan singing “Wind” with Joan Baez at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival to an enraptured fan base, then  being booed mercilessly at Newport ’65 when he played “Like A Rolling Stone” backed by an electric band. What the hell were the Dylan devotees thinking!

 Jenny Lewis, formerly of L.A. backwoods rockers Rilo Kiley, sounds more powerful every time I see her. The ginger-tressed singer belts out great stuff from behind the piano, backed by the Watson Twins, as she was on her ’08 solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat. It was a rousing opening act that set the bar nice and high.

 Seattle‘s Heart featuring the Wilson sisters follows with an upbeat set of ’70s rockers delivered by vocalist Ann Wilson with all the lungpower of Grace Slick with sister Nancy on guitar. For some reason, they play Led Zep’s “The Rain Song,” but don’t include their big one, “Barracuda.” It means I have no platform for hauling out the old TV commercial from my bag of tricks. But here it is anyway: The hipster confesses he’s unable to say the name Barracuda, and the car salesman trying to sell him one says, “Follow me: ” BA,” “BA,” repeats the customer. Then it’s “RA,” “RA,” and “CU” “CU,” then “DA,” and “DA.” The salesman urges, “Now put them all together,” and the cool cat goes, “BA-BA, RA-RA, CU-CU, DA-DA!”

 Spelled in lower case, fun is next, the fab indie-rock trio that probably has your four closest friends split right down the middle, either for or against. You’d have to have been stationed on a NASA satellite with Sandy Bullock to not have heard their smash “We Are Young” recently on late-night TV. Their set has the crowd raving and drooling, cheering on this oddball but very effective blend of African chants and sea shanties as sung by Tom Lehrer. Nate Reuss, Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff, always one step ahead of the crowd, prove it this afternoon by ending their set with a knockout version of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

 Diana Krall, possibly the best female modern jazz pianist since the glory days of Jutta Hipp, sounds terrific, just as she did at the Monterey Jazz Festival a few years ago. But she only plays three classics from the great American song book, accompanied by upright bassist Dennis Crouch, before bringing out her husband, Elvis Costello. With Elvis in his customary fishmonger’s hat, they play a few tunes together with Krall converting to more of a roadhouse style of ivory tickling.

 Then Krall departs and Costello sticks his fingers in the wedding cake one more time for a slowed-down version of “Alison,” still his best song ever. After “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes” and Beatles diamond “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” he tells a story about a club manager informing him that somebody wanted to meet him backstage, “a bloke who claims he was in a pop group.” Turned out to be none other than Graham Nash. “I told Graham he wouldn’t remember it, but the last time we met I was still in short pants, and he was in the Hollies,” reveals Costello. Then Nash appears onstage for a thrilling reading of Hollies staple “King Midas In Reverse.”

 Former Bill Graham right-hand man and current Bridge Benefit stage announcer Jerry Pompili tells a good one between sets. He urges people to vote in local elections if they’re tired of all the partisan bickering in Washington D.C. Then he says, “Mark Twain once said that politicians, like diapers, need to be changed often—and for the same reason.”

 Jack Johnson, the weakest link tonight, plays a pedestrian set mostly influenced by Nilsson’s “Lime In The Coconut,” with one bright moment, a cover of “Just What I Needed” by the Cars. Things pick up a bit when Johnson tries on a few zydeco-ish numbers with an accordionist.

 “The world is still open to possibilities,” claims a bright-eyed Jim James as My Morning Jacket swings into its first number of a set that would be the high water mark of the evening. MMJ songs build to a climax that almost defies belief. Tunes like “Victory Dance” are punctuated with Kentucky hillbilly yelps, confirming that James seems to be the closest thing to a rock shaman since the glory days of Jimbo Morrison. There’s a song about farm labor that conjures up the spirit of John Steinbeck. By the time Neil comes out and joins the boys for a “Harvest Moon” finale, you get the feeling this was really something special.

 Arcade Fire, as its front man Win Butler notes, is “pinch-hitting for the Killers” who had to cancel and “there’s nowhere else we’d rather be tonight than right here.” This highly successful, multi-member outfit based in Montreal has changed a bit since its initial U.S. tour in 2005. Instead of swapping instruments with one another as if participating in a drill by a volunteer fire department, they now seem to take their name more to heart. Not as overtly costumed as

Aussie combo Split Enz, Arcade Fire faintly resembles a band making the best of things after a devastating circus fire. Their theatricality is first-rate, and their fans (to employ the most overused word in hockey parlance) “obviously” love them. The sweetest thing about Arcade Fire is their passing similarity to revered Elephant 6 group Neutral Milk Hotel, but this is a band that stands on its own.

 Unfortunately, the carriage and horses that took us to the Bridge Benefit are about to turn into a pumpkin and some mice as the clock nears midnight. The flags atop the landmark twin tents that cover the stage area are flapping in a stiffening breeze, and it’s time to depart before the last two acts, Queens Of The Stone Age and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, hit the stage. We’ve been here since 1:30 in the afternoon, and the old bones are beginning to creak. One thing’s for certain, we’ll return next year for the 28th season of Neil and Pegi’s fabulous three-ring circus.


BELLE ADAIR – The Brave And The Blue

Album: The Brave and the Blue

Artist: Belle Adair

Label: Single Lock

Release Date: August 27, 2013

BElle adair 8-27


There’s a long-standing and deep seated musical heritage in and around Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Lately, that heritage is getting revitalized thanks to the consistently stellar songwriting of Jason Isbell and the meteoric rise of the Alabama Shakes. You can now add Belle Adair to the mix.

On their debut full-length, The Brave And The Blue, they take a page (or ten) from the Wilco playbook in creating a dreamy brand of Americana that’s bathed in a fuzzy, atmospheric sonic wash but still rooted in wood and wire.

They score immediately with “Be Brave,” a slowly unfolding, ambient, sonic landscape that serves as the intro to a triptych of opening songs. The three-song suite flows seamlessly as the soft and plaintive “Sister” leisurely ripens for a full two minutes until electric guitars chime in supporting the piano and acoustic guitar, building to a crescendo that flirts with the edge of cacophony until lulling back into the atmospheric soundscape then marching into “Slowest Routine,” with it’s weird vocal effects and psychedelic pop tendencies layered on a thrumming rhythm. It’s the most cohesive part of the album, because from there, they jump around a bit.

They weave their way through warm melancholia swathed in pedal steel and wailing fiddles, then get all jangly with “Golden Days.” They tilt towards dream-pop with “Comes A Time.” Elsewhere, horns punctuate the mostly melancholia moods like a Muscle Shoals cousin of the Flying Burrito Brothers.  The stylistic shifts seem slight until you realize how much ground they cover and how they wrap it up nicely in an ambient package. Belle Adair isn’t exactly breaking new ground, but they are adding a new chapter to an already longstanding legacy.

  DOWNLOAD: “Golden Days,” “Easy Way Out”

DEER TICK – Negativity

Album: Negativity

Artist: Deer Tick

Label: Partisan

Release Date: September 24, 2013

Deer Tick 9-24


 A pretty strong step away from their freewheeling last record (Divine Providence), Deer Tick’s fifth and latest offering is a tad darker and surprisingly personal compared to earlier efforts. The result is ultimately a stronger album, but it takes a little time to get to the good stuff.

 The album for this Rhode Island band, led by John McCauley, was written during a particularly dark time for the frontman. His father went to prison for tax evasion and his fiancée called off the engagement – two pretty big blows to take back to back. And the mood is certainly reflected in the rather aptly titled Negativity.   

 Coming on at a dozen tracks, Negativity saves the best of the songs for the second half of the record. It’s not that the first set is particularly weak, it’s just that songs like the beautifully soulful “Trash” and the wistful duet (with Vanessa Carlton) “In Our Time” – two of the band’s best to date – stand out much more vividly. While pulling off a slightly more mature, darker collection than they have in the past, Deer Tick still manage to remain charmingly disheveled enough as to not loose what made the band appealing in the first place.     

 DOWNLOAD: “Trash,” “In Our Time” and “Hey Doll”


BOMBAY DUB ORCHESTRA – Tales from the Grand Bazaar

Album: Tales From the Grand Bazaar

Artist: Bombay Dub Orchestra

Release Date: October 29, 2013

Bombay Dub 10-8


Bombay Dub Orchestra’s Three Cities, released three years ago, was titled after the ones where it was recorded: Mumbai (aka Bombay), Chennai (aka Madras) and London, close to home for the project’s British masterminds, Andrew T. Mackay and Garry Hughes. But Arab influences had begun to infiltrate the duo’s downtempo mashup of traditional Eastern musics and Jamaican-British electro-dub.

The group’s latest album was recorded in eight locales, only two of them in India. That a Middle Eastern flavor is even more conspicuous this time can be surmised from the set’s title: Tales from the Grand Bazaar. Inspired by Turkey’s great metropolis, the album features quanun player Aytac Dogan, oud player Cem Yildiz and the Istanbul Strings Group. But it also enlists reggae’s most famous rhythm section, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and encompasses Egyptian pop, Bollywood scores and ambient/new age lullabies.

The result is impeccably performed and skillfully assembled, yet far from revelatory. “Blue Mosaic” is a pleasant sort of Silk-Road-to-the-Caribbean travelogue, and the synth-dominated “A Time of Beauty” is the most soothing of the album’s several chilled-way-out tracks. But producers (mostly Western European ones) have been whipping up this sort of tasteful transglobal froth for a couple of decades now, and Mackay and Hughes don’t add anything fresh to the genre. Their juxtapositions fail to surprise, let alone offer insight into the various styles collaged here. For the Bombay Dub Orchestra, world music is just a cafeteria, not a university.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue Mosaic,” “A Time of Beauty”

ELF POWER – Sunlight on the Moon

Album: Sunlight on the Moon

Artist: Elf Power

Label: Orange Twin

Release Date: October 01, 2013

Elf Power


 Sunlight on the Moon is Elf Power’s 12th full-length, and while it still sounds exuberantly, defiantly amateur (in the best, “for the love of it” sense), the band has clearly gotten better at what it does. These fuzz-toned, delicately arranged melodies curve in a gratifying ways around bizarrely evocative imagery. They are well-constructed, tightly knit songs that fizz with eccentricity and bubble with subconscious impulses. “Even in the dreamworld, you will not comply with my commands,” sings Andrew Rieger on the mesmeric “Strange Designs”, and you do get a sense of dreams that permeate the music, infiltrate it, co-opt it, and refuse to cede to the real world.

 Elf Power filters disconcerting imagery through the sunny lens of lo-fi pop. Standout “Lift the shell,” drives hard with its fuzz-guitar riff and punchy drums, but it also makes room for sound-engineered fuckery and wistful, pastel-toned weirdness. “Total Annihilation” is another oddball winner, all jangle and 1960s tambourine slaps and tight harmonies, until a fuzz guitar solo rips through the middle. Low murmuring harmonies recall the mid-period work of the most famous of all Athens bands, but R.E.M. never ventured this far into cracked and not-entirely-positive mysticism. The disconnect between sunny sounds and darker lyrical content is striking in a song whose big melodic pay-off is hitched to the line, “create these illusions of fate, and crawl back down under the weight.”

 Sunlight on the Moon is utterly pleasant, slightly off-kilter and melodically memorable, but if you listen to it hard enough, it’s also a bit disturbing. You can ride these tunes to garage rock euphoria, buoyed by thermal currents of sun-warmed pop, brushed by tuneful light-and-shadows breezes.  Don’t look down, though, because things are dark, weirder and more dangerous than you’d expect.

 DOWNLOAD:  “Lift the Shell” “Total Annihilation”



Album: New Secrets


Label: Shrimper

Release Date: June 11, 2013



 Proof isn’t needed to show that independent music continues to thrive in this post-digital age, but New Secrets offers up plenty more anyway. A collaboration between Shrimper Records boss Dennis Callaci and influential Omaha singer-songwriter Simon Joyner, it contains eleven raw, ragged and impassioned songs full of old-fashioned heart and soul. Not that that should be surprising – Joyner has been cited as a major influence on fellow Omahan Conor Oberst, and that gentle ache that defines Bright Eyes’ entire catalogue is here in abundance.

 Listen, for example, to the forlorn tones of “Tender Came By”, its sad country heartstrings breaking one by one, second by second. It’s a modern yet anachronistic lament that’s instrumentally sparse but full of emotional power, a combination which the pair seem to have worked out perfectly. On opening track “Mary”, their cracked, melancholy voices duet in unison over a simple plucked melody that sounds like falling rain, before things take an even darker turn on the near-death march of “Old Man In The Rain”. “Let’s Make History Bleed” not only has a superb title but, over a simply strummed refrain, glowers magnificently with both menace and meaning. The album ends with the sweet lilt of “There Will Be A Time”, a hopeful yet sad song that, like this record, looks both forwards and backwards simultaneously.

 There are no tricks here, no fancy production, no gimmicks – just pure and simple songwriting at its very best. When it comes down to it, that’s all there needs to be.

  DOWNLOAD: “Tender Came By”, “There Will Be A Time”, “Let’s Make History Bleed”   

Austin City Limits Festival 2013 Day Two (Oct. 5)

Dates: October 5, 2013

Location: Austin City Limits Festival, Austin TX

2. Deap Valley ACL Blurt


In an unexpected move for raunch, Deap Valley (pictured at top, also below) made an early afternoon appearance at ACL. Although it started out slow, they picked up!  A voice like Joplin, the garage/blues sound of White Stripes, but with some tasty Zep Riffs on it.  I guess Jack White’s sex change was successful!

1. Deap Valley ACL Blurt

‘80s Austin legends True Believers played a rousing set that day. These guys have a bigger punk pedigree than anyone!  Alejandro Escovedo and Kevin Foley were in The Nuns, which opened up for The Sex Pistols during their 1978 tour,  brother Javier Escovedo from The Nuns, John Dee Graham of The Skunks, and Danny DeGorio. With such a history, it was typical Austin that they played on a smaller stage.  As usual, the important stuff doesn’t often make the headlines.

 3. True Believers ACL Blurt


 4. True Believers ACL Blurt

The Mavericks followed. Not quite country, not quite rock, and not quite Americana, but an incredible band if one favors any of the three mentioned above and somewhere in between.

5. The Mavericks ACL Blurt

6. The Mavericks ACL Blurt

The Cure was the headlining act for Saturday.  Their review and photos are here.  After the official festivities, there were official ACL aftershows, but like the week before, there was a tough choice to make for even better non official shows. There was Austin Corn Lovers Festival headlined by The Hickoids and a Dicks reunion, then there was The Blind Owls, Get Hip Recordings artist The Ugly Beats, and The Ogres, a new project from The Phantom Surfers guru Johnny Bartlett. Two great shows and a personal history for both, but I opted for The Ogres.  I got to Continental Club at 11 and missed The Blind Owls, a promising and very young band Beatles inspired band from Corpus Christi, but luckily got in right as The Ogres took the stage.

7. The Ogres ACL Blurt

What can one say about The Ogres? By the picture, one already knows it was fun. Cavemen, faux fur vests, and some great mops to top it off?  There’s more.  It’s more fun to see a garage band than other types since it’s loud, silly, you can dance to it, but see/hear some great surf mixed in with r&b. It never gets old. 

 Apparently, they did a mini tour of Texas with The Ugly Beats starting a few days before.  I think they ate nothing but barbecue and bought nothing back with them but LOTS of barbeque sauce.  Little would one think that a bunch of ogres mainly subside on arugula and artichokes (they’re from California). It’s only fitting that they indulged in a paleo diet! 

8. The Ogres ACL Blurt

What was a very brief little Texas jaunt created something really special with The Ogres (and their better halves) and The Ugly Beats.  When The Ugly Beats got on stage with The Ogres for their final song, it felt like everybody knew each other and played together regularly. It was great to see so much talent and admiration together that felt like a party at a friend’s house. 

9. The Ogres-The Ugly Beats ACL Blurt

An Ugly Beats performance is always fun. Even as a home town band, one looks forward to seeing them and one misses them after a few weeks. Some surf, California psych folk, garage, and powerpop put in together for a great mix.

10. The Ugly Beats ACL Blurt

The Easybeats and The Byrds mixed together, but just when you think you know them, they’ll pull out “You’ll Forget That You Loved Me” or “Slow Death” and throw you for a loop.  It’s a little of a let down to see them also since one always wishes they could be on stage longer.

11. The Ugly Beats ACL Blurt (1)

In closing, The Ogres and The Blind Owls joined together on stage for The Easybeats “I’ll Make You Happy.” They did. It felt like the stage was extended to the whole club and everyone joined in.  If any ACL Festival goers made it, they considered themselves lucky.

12. The Ugly Beats ACL Blurt

Passman’s Complete ACL Coverage:

Day 1

Day 2

Joy Formidable

Depeche Mode

The Cure

Unknown Mortal Orchestra 10/7/13, Chapel Hill NC

Dates: October 7, 2013

Location: Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill NC



 Before Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage, opener Jackson Scott stunned the audience with an energetic mix of psychedelic songs from his debut album, Melbourne. Scott’s vocals, a weird mix of haunting, unnerving, and self-aware, made him an especially fascinating live act.

 Lo-fi psychedelic rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra are well-known for their laidback sound on their two critically acclaimed albums, which made their performance at Cat’s Cradle in Raleigh all the more interesting. What seems calm and relaxing on record translates into a much more intimate – and somewhat frantic – sound during a live show. In concert, it is much easier to notice just how intricate some of the band’s melodies really are. Many of the songs drifted into extended guitar solos, showcasing the talent of lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter Ruban Nielson, as well as the rest of the band. The band controlled the tempo of the audience as they took their songs from records to the stage. This quality helped the show alternate from exploding into the forefront of the room at one point and then the next retreating for a more casual listening experience.

Their performance was approachable and enjoyable yet commanding and entertaining. They truly brought their music to life in a way that is enjoyable for the concert goer but they lack the sort of wow factor that would make listeners demand that their friends go. This is a band that you should catch in concert and watch as they continue to accelerate on their road to popularity through quality music.



THE CHILLS — Somewhere Beautiful

Album: Somewhere Beautiful

Artist: The Chills

Label: Fire

Release Date: October 29, 2013

Chills 10-29


 Although they’ve achieved close to legendary stature in their native New Zealand, The Chills have never garnered anywhere near the kind of fame that their countrymen Crowded House enjoyed here in the U.S. Constant changes in the line-up may be possibly to blame; despite more than 20 years of plying their trade, the band’s leader Martin Phillipps remains the only constant. And yet, their generally accessible style should have made more of an impact, especially given the favorable reaction Americans have had to most music brewed Down Under.

 Happily then, the domestic crowd gets a second chance to show appreciation thanks to the release of Somewhere Beautiful, a live set spread over three LPs and recorded at a private party on New Year’s Eve 2011. Despite some apparent technical glitches, the music resonates well, an unlikely mix of raucous rockers and elegiac chamber pop, with some semi-psychedelia tossed in for good effect. And while the occasional cacophony that marks tracks like “Walk on the Beach” and “House With a Hundred Rooms” can be jarring, other songs — such as “Wet Blanket,” “Soft Bomb Part One” and “Part Past Part Fiction” — have them sounding like New Zealand’s version of REM, thanks to Phillipps’ breathless vocals and similarly jangled intents.

 Whether or not Somewhere Beautiful finds favor with those who are heretofore unawares remains to be seen. With twenty tracks and plenty of impromptu circumstance, it may not offer the same potential for pure appreciation that a standard anthology of studio tracks might provide. Nevertheless, there’s an adventurous spirit contained herein, and The Chills show they’re adept at heating things up as necessary.

 DOWNLOAD: “Wet Blanket,” “Part Past Part Fiction,” “Soft Bomb Part One”

BARDO POND – Peace on Venus

Album: Peace On Venus

Artist: Bardo Pond

Label: Fire

Release Date: October 29, 2013

Bardo Pond CD


 At just five tracks, Bardo’s Michael Gibbons is calling Peace on Venus “a less is more statement in essence,” but don’t look for minimalism here. These tracks roar, sprawl and obliterate, in a hypnotic, heavy-booted march to enlightenment. Wall-sized guitar tones fray and blister into dissonance, drums pound in monolithic, relentless forward motion, and Isobel Sollenger’s voice floats over the roil and racket like a dream you had once as a child. Even more melodic entries like “Taste” have a palpable weight and density, their own field of gravity that pulls you in and keeps you there.

 Even flute and acoustic-guitar folky “Chance” blossoms into widescreen mayhem. From start to finish an all-enveloping experience, the album reaches its slow-motion apex in the final “Before the Moon,” where noise-curdled feedback, ritual pace and unearthly siren song vocals combine in unbearable headiness. Less is more, my ass. This is more, almost more than you can take, and it’s better than less any day.

 DOWNLOAD: “Taste,” “Before the Moon”