Monthly Archives: May 2016

Brian Jonestown Massacre 5/7/16, Boston

Dates: May 7, 2016

Location: Paradise Rock Club, Boston

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The Upshot: Live at the Paradise Rock Club, in all Anton Newcombe’s deranged psychedelic glory. Above: “This tambourine ain’t gonna play itself ya know.”

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON

For someone who was all dressed up and ready to go to Levitation in Austin a couple of weeks ago (where BJM was scheduled to play) only to find out it was canceled because of weather, catching this show in Boston a week or so later was pretty cool.   (Note to self – don’t count your psychedelic chickens before they are hatched for an outdoor festival — Levitation — held on a flood plain, next to a river bank in Texas during that state’s traditionally rainiest and stormiest month of the year.)

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BJM’s show at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club was of course sold out, and I’m told tickets went quickly.  It’s an intimate setting this club.  Way too crowded to get many close-ups but with this band I didn’t care – it’s the whole band in action I find so captivating and visual anyway. And there are two levels at the club so you can work the angles.   Couldn’t stay for the whole show but heard it was close to 3-hours long, these gazer-fans in the crowd got their money’s worth.  My second trip to this venue.  I enjoy it, and I guess everyone does (except maybe the nervous guy next to me who kept telling anyone who’d listen where the fire exits were, which was annoying but I was glad to know actually.)

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Band-founder Anton Newcombe seemed in good spirits – talked a lot to the crowd. And the band was in fantastic form, which I think they usually are.  The world’s best tambourine player Joel Gion was showing us how it’s done.     BJM’s current lineup is:  Anton – guitar & vocals, Colin Henna – bass, Rob Campanella – keys (including what I think is an amazing sounding and very cool new digital Mellotron that I saw him demo at Levitation in the gear tent in 2015), Rick Maymi – guitar (far right), Ryan Van Kriedt, Daniel Allaire, and Joel G.   On tour now through the summer at least. Visit http://thebrianjonestownmassacre.com/tour/ for dates, and make it happen.

Formed in 1990 in San Francisco, BJM has been making the world safe (mostly) for all things psychedelic and groovy ever since.  May it ever be so.  I’m not sure there has been a more influential band that does what they do – many imitators have followed, and that’s OK with me.  You gotta set your sights on someone, and I’m happy with any band that aspires to be Brian Jonestown Massacre.   Just try very hard is all I ask, start with a rock-solid drummer like theirs, don’t forget the hooks, and stay weird.

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Titus Andronicus + La Sera 5/17/16, Denver

Dates: May 17, 2016

Location: Marquis Theatre, Denver CO

The Upshot: Denver’s Marquis Theatre was an indie rock devotee’s dream on this weekday night.

TEXT BY TIM HINELY / PHOTOS BY JD BAMFORD

I missed openers The Knew (who I heard were good) and also missed the first 2-3 songs of La Sera, unfortunately.  I’m all for gigs starting early but you gotta get there early and I was finishing dinner (3 whole pizzas, with anchovies, and a jug of prune juice, thank you very much).

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I hadn’t seen La Sera before but have really liked all three of their releases on the Hardly Art label. For their latest release, 2016’s Music For Listening to Music To they jumped labels to bigger Polyvinyl. That record was also produced by Ryan Adams and is a bit of a departure from their usually fuzzy indie pop to something with a bit more twang. I don’t mind, I like twang, but it did take a little getting used to.

On stage most of their set consisted of songs from the latest record including peppy versions of “Hight Notes,” “Shadow of Your Love,” “Take My Heart” and “Time To Go” though they did toss in a few oldies like “Love That’s Gone” and “Running Wild.” Bassist/vocalist/founder Katy Goodman seems to have a great on stage rapport with guitarist/vocalist Todd Wisenbaker and why not, it’s her husband (they got hitched last year) while drummer Brendan McCusker kept the steady beat. Goodman was hilarious, cracking up the audience between songs, but the biggest surprise came when they covered Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” to crazed applause. Come back soon, you La Sera people!

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Titus Andronicus came through last year when they toured with labelmates Spider Bags at this very same venue (that night ‘twas Merge Records in da’ house). Here they were again and just like last time, vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stickles (he grew the beard back) came out and told the crowd to “be cool you guys, we all want to have fun here so no crazy slam dancing or anything. Let’s all love our brothers and sisters ” (or something to that effect). He also stated that his mom was in the crowd so to be on our extra good behavior. Fair enough.
There were a few less people this time (the venue was probably two-third full) but the band had their fanatics up front, pumping their firsts and singing along to every word. This band inspires that kind of devotion (like if The Pogues didn’t drink (??!!) and hailed from Glen Rock, NJ). They opened with Stickles doing an acoustic version of “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with a Flood of Detritus” (that’s a moutful) from 2012’s Local Business but most of the songs they played were from last  years epic The Most Lamentable Tragedy including fierce versions of “Fired Up” and “Dimed Out.” They also tossed in fan favorites “In a Big City” and “A More Perfect Union” for my benefit (I’m convinced of it).

I didn’t stick around ‘til the bitter end to see if they played the Joe Walsh tune ‘Rocky Mountain Way” like they did last time (the three pizzas were now getting to me), but a good time was had by all. Something tells me that these guys will be back sooner rather than later and again. I won’t miss it.

Photos: JD Bamford Photography (http://jdbamford.photography/performance)

DULLMEA – Keter

Album: Keter

Artist: Dullmea

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 08, 2016

http://dullmea.bandcamp.com

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The Upshot: Eerie and experimental, the Portugal group beguiles and intrigues.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Dullmea is from Portugal, and from the initial haunting vocals, the experimental nature of the music sets the stage to beguile and intrigue listeners, who eventually get wrapped in its undertow. Spartan in nature the tracks require an active as opposed to passive participation by the listener. The claustrophobic nature on the track “Respiratio,” with its angelic vocals layered over what sounds like a ventilator, is disturbing and yet creates from very spare sounds an aural thrill ride of sorts. “Digestio” is an eerie send-off from this strange yet very rewarding ride. Not knowing where you’ve landed but feeling richer for the experience, Dullmea’s new album is quite a rewarding experience.

DOWNLOAD: “Articulus,” “Respiratio,” “Digestio”

 

 

 

LA CERCA – Sunrise For Everyone

Album: Sunrise for Everyone

Artist: La Cerca

Label: Xemu

Release Date: May 06, 2016

www.xemu.com

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The Upshot: Tucson musician, with overtones of Yo La Tengo, Galaxy 500 and the Verlaines, imbues its tunes with a handshake-and-a-hug quality, inviting you to come into his world.

BY FRED MILLS

Originally a 2014 vinyl-only release from NC’s Fort Lowell label that landed on yours truly’s year-end best-of list, Sunrise For Everyone has, remarkably, not only retained its sonic and lyric charms, it’s arguably even a better listen now. This is partly due to familiarity; it’s hard to beat the joys of picking up a favorite record for the first time in some while. But it’s also due to a kind of ineffable timelessness, testimony to the Tucson group’s songwriting and arranging smarts—which of course are credited largely to leader Andrew Gardner. The album has now seen release on CD (remember them?), picking up a bonus track in the process.

What should you expect if you have not heard it? For starters, there’s a musical flourish coming about two and a half minutes into “Sunrise For Everyone,” the title track of Tucson group La Cerca’s new album, that provides a small but telling glimpse into what makes the band tick and also what potentially makes this the feel-good album of the summer—if not the entire year. Following a low-key intro powered by a subtly urgent guitar jangle and pulsebeat-thrumming bass, the band expertly springboards off the tune’s dynamic and into a starburst of ecstatic strums, pounding percussion and joyous “ba ba da baaaa…” voices. That they do it again later in the song, this time with peppy horns playing the aforementioned vocal line, only serves to cement the melody and rhythm in the listener’s mind, already primed by the optimism suggested by the songtitle.

It’s as if every great indie pop band you might care to cite, from Big Star to Yo La Tengo to Galaxie 500 to all the great Flying Nun bands (Clean, Verlaines, etc.) of yore, had held a summit in order to formally pass the torch to this small band of Arizonans.

High praise, indeed—bordering on, I realize, hyperbole. That those legendary groups are among my favorites and that they seem to share a deep musical kinship with La Cerca mainman and songwriter Andrew Gardner, however, only bolsters my critical regard for the music he and his compatriots create. Every track here bears sonic fruit: the swing, swagger and serendipity of the reflective, pedal steel-inflected “Sorry XO”; the stately tumble of the almost gospellish “The First One”; the angular and elegant extended jam that is “Mountain Villager,” what with its Television-meets-John-Fahey vibe; and the subtly majestic “Weather Festival,” that, incredibly, manages to distill the vicissitudes of desert weather into six rousing, dynamics-rich minutes of psychedelic blissout. (That’s not a stray observation. Point of fact: Gardner told BLURT that “I had an idea that I wanted a record to be somewhat weather-related, or atmosphere- related. It’s taking another meaning into desert rock, if you will. We’re making music that is reflective of the land, or the atmosphere. ‘Weather Festival’ is a perfect example: it’s a sunny day and you end up in a very different place. It can change your mind. It can change everything.”)

Incidentally, the aforementioned bonus track is a gem, in no way the kind of throwaway or afterthought that bonus tracks often are. Titled “Kissface,” it’s got a kind of Yo La Tengo-on-shoegaze vibe, running for nearly seven minutes and awash in chiming guitars and strafing synths.

Singing in a warm, confident, almost blue-eyed-soul voice, Gardner imbues his tunes with a handshake-and-a-hug quality, inviting you to come into his world which, per the album title, is an inclusive one. An array of Tucson musical artisans is part of the extended La Cerca family, ensuring that the sense of collective purpose is palpable. It’s not hard to tell when all the musical pieces of a project came together for its creators; there’s a peculiar quality of simpatico-ness that peeks through, and this holds true even when it’s a project born of darkness (say, Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night).

This one, though, is all about letting the light shine through. If you missed the album first time around, do yourself a favor and grab a copy now. It’ll leave you glowing.

DOWNLOAD: “Weather Festival,” “Sunrise For Everyone,” “Arizon”

Go HERE to read the BLURT interview with Andrew Gardner of La Cerca. We’ve also got a spiffy audio track you can listen to while reading.

NATHANIEL TALBOT – Swamp Rose & Honeysuckle Vine

Album: Swamp Rose & Honeysuckle Vine

Artist: Nathaniel Talbot

Label: Fluff & Gravy

Release Date: November 20, 2015

www.fluffandgravy.com

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The Upshot: Minimalist-tilting songwriter draws inspiration from both Nick Drake and James Taylor.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Like any good shoegazer worth his salt, Nathaniel Talbot takes his marching orders from Nick Drake, even though there’s enough implied personality to make the music his own. Lately though, James Taylor seems to have emerged as a major template, giving the nu-folk legions someone else to cite for inspiration. Not that JT’s jocularity ever enters the equation, but there’s something to be said for the soothing vocals and steadfast bearing that Sweet Baby James has loaned his musical offspring over the years, garnered from the signature songs that are most melancholic.

Talbot, a full time naturalist who spends much of his time running an organic vegetable farm on Whidbey Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound, isn’t immune to that allure, and so it ought to come as no surprise that Swamp Rose and Honeysuckle Vine, his fourth outing to date — and first to garner wider distribution — draws at least a partial influence from Taylor’s wizened ways. For his part, Talbot opts to keep the arrangements at a wholly low key level, with minimal acoustic accoutrements consisting of mournful violins, spare guitar, mandolin, double bass, and occasional understated harmonies. It’s a lovely mix to be sure, but so shaded at times, the illumination is barely visible. “As The Way,” “Before There Was Blue,” “New Haircut,” and the title track could be offered as evidence, but in fact, there’s little variation from one track to another other than the occasional acoustic guitar instrumental. (In the case of the latter, think Leo Kottke in a metaphysical mood.) These songs exist in the half light, all wistful rumination and contemplative musings. Indeed, a suggestion of sadness permeates these tepid melodies, but the effect can be spellbinding regardless. Can you say “sublime?”

DOWNLOAD: “As The Way,” “Before There Was Blue,” “Swamp Rose & Honeysuckle Vine”

ELVIS COSTELLO – Detour: Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Title: Elvis Costello - Detour: Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Release Date: February 12, 2016

Eagle Vision

www.eagle-rock.com

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BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Based on the sheer power and largess of Costello’s catalog alone, any DVD that documents his 40 year career and more than 25 of his superb songs is in itself well worth the price of admission. Consequently, this live disc, taken from last year’s Detour tour, makes for an outstanding concert souvenir as well as a superb summation of Costello’s classic catalog. Granted there is a certain element of goofiness that accompanies the show’s center stage prop, the oversized Lupe-O-Tone TV set, but as a vehicle for Costello to ruminate a bit about his backstory and specifically his father’s career as a musician, it aids with the insight. More significantly, it provides an opportunity for Elvis to get up close and personal with diehard devotees.

 

As for the performances themselves, admittedly there is an element missing when Elvis opts to present his material sans a backing band. That’s especially apparent on songs drawn from his early insurgent phase — specifically “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down,” “Watching The Detectives” and “Accidents Will Happen” — tunes that would sound more in sync if he had a group in tow. However, he still pulls them off ably, albeit in acoustic/demo mode. Nevertheless, the best offerings come about when he has the support of his special guests, Rebecca and Megan Lowell of Larkin Poe, whose tightly-knit harmonies and adept instrumental abilities provide the backing on such standards as “Peace Love and Understanding,” “Blame It On Cain” and “Brilliant Mistake.”

 

Granted, this year’s model is considerably mellower than the angry young punk that exemplified the early Elvis, but that maturity has also brought an increased appreciation for his song craft and a stage persona that is both wiser and more wizened than ever before. Detour may have taken Costello off the beaten path, but it still finds him on the right road forward.

 

FALLON CUSH – Bee In Your Bonnet

Album: Bee in Your Bonnet

Artist: Fallon Cush

Label: LTR

Release Date: May 20, 2016

www.falloncush.com

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The Upshot: Aussie Steve Smith serves up a mix of melodious mid-tempo tunes and concise yet catchy rockers.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The nom de plume for Sydney Australia wunderkind Steve Smith, Fallon Cush has maintained a consistent track record thus far courtesy of two previous albums that have won glowing reviews from a host of knowing critics and pundits. This latest effort promises to continue that trajectory, given its mix of melodious mid-tempo tunes and concise yet catchy rockers. Smith and associates have built their reputation on a sound that falls midway between English pop and echoes of Americana, with neither tack overshadowing the other.

 

If anything, Fallon Crush occasionally takes its cue from famous precedents, as on the tracks “Haunting” and “The Honeycomb,” which bring to mind Kiwi cousins Crowded House, or the song “Kings of Ransom” which sounds suspiciously like the Faces fronted by Ronnie Lane. Happily, those references don’t detract from Fallon Cush’s agreeable approach, which incorporates both billowing ballads and a more assertive style. Smith’s winsome vocals generally keep the music in accessible terrain, all cooing melodies with the occasional upward spiral. An excellent offering overall, Bee In Your Bonnet is not only an ideal introduction, but, like its predecessors, an essential acquisition all on on its own.

DOWNLOAD: “Kings of Ransom,“ “Haunting,” “The Honeycomb”

 

MARK ERELLI—For a Song

Album: For a Song

Artist: Mark Erelli

Label: Self-released

Release Date: April 08, 2016

http://markerelli.com/

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The Upshot: Gifted artist steps out of the shadows of others that he’s collaborated with to craft a quiet, contemplative, rueful and, at intervals, achingly pretty album.

 

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

Mark Erelli has spent his fair share of time in other artists’ shadows, as a back-up musician for Lori McKenna, Josh Ritter and Paula Cole, and a songwriter for Vance Gilbert, Ellis Paul and others. No surprise then that his latest album has a certain reticent self-assurance, the kind that comes from knowing you’re good and recognizing that very few people will ever notice.

 

Erelli’s tunes are soft-spoken and lightly embellished. Filigreed picking and a wry, whispery voice carry most of the weight, though Sam Kassirer contributes some lovely atmospherics via organ and other keyboards, and a few of the cuts are augmented with small ensemble vocal harmonies. There is a noticeable acoustic rhythm section on a couple of the tracks, and “Wayside” most likely rocks live (it sounds a little like the Wallflowers, to me, trad but rowdy). And yet the primary mood is quiet, contemplative, rueful and, at intervals, achingly pretty.

 

Consider, for example, the lead-off “Oklahoma,” the first of several songs to delineate the essential loneliness of travelling. The song moves steadily, unhurriedly, placidly forward through its verse (which bears a melodic resemblance to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”), a workable tune, nothing remarkable. But then, the chorus turns unexpectedly beautiful, just in the way that the drawn out “Oklaho-o-o-o-ma” lilts upward and blossoms in close harmonies.

 

Erelli is a storyteller, deftly sketching characters like the elderly repair man of “Analog Hero,” the artist Michelangelo in “Look Up,” the street musician in “Netherlands” with minimal but telling details. As is often the case, these artfully drawn vignettes stand on their own as tales but also seem to resonate with Erelli’s own experience. “An analog hero in a world full of zeroes and ones,” describes the weathered handyman but surely also the folksinger in an age of auto tune. The weathered accordion player in “Netherlands” gets passed by indifferently, not so different from a songwriter on the road in the 21st century.

 

The best song on the disc is “Look Up,” where a bemused artist, never named, ponders the sheer hardness of creative work. “Four long years, I’ve bent my back, painting every plaster crack, the hand of God and Adam’s sin rain down,” he sings, and that and a few other references hint that we’re talking about the Sistine Chapel. Even so, he doubts, he questions, he struggles. “Above me now the canopy, the stars and all their majesty, remind me of the master I will never be,” Erelli sings. The melody is pristinely simple but heady, as Paula Cole, who once dueted with Peter Gabriel on “Don’t Give Up,” adds similarly otherworldly harmonies.

 

For a Song isn’t the kind of album that grabs you by the throat. Its appeal is subtle and slow to take hold. Yet these songs need not stand in anyone’s shadow.  Rather they make their case calmly, eloquently and with assurance, though without ever speaking above a normal tone of voice.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Look Up” “Analog Hero” “Oklahoma”

 

CHEAP TRICK – At Budokan: The Complete Concert (RSD)

Album: At Budokan: The Complete Concert (RSD)

Artist: Cheap Trick

Label: Legacy

Release Date: April 16, 2016

www.legacyrecordings.com

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The Upshot: Surrender, bitch.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

 

Cheap Trick, more than any other American band, can lay claim to the phrase “Big in Japan.”

 

In 1978, the band had just released three great albums in rapid succession (Cheap Tick, In Color and Heaven Tonight). They would go on to become power pop classics, but got little notice in the U.S. at the time. The guys flew to Japan to play yet another in their endless line of shows in April of that year, this one in Tokyo in front of a crowd of 12,000 to promote their latest album. The show was recorded and expected only to be released in Asia. But much to the surprise of the band, their label and pretty much everyone else, the crowds in Japan lost their collective shit for the four-piece from Rockford, Illinois with their jangly guitars, sharp hooks and catchy choruses.

 

Released in the spring of 1979 (everywhere), Live at Budokan went on to sell over 3 million copies and is easily the band’s best-selling record (it even spawned oft-quoted stage banter). The original release contained just 10 songs, but in 1998, Epic finally put out an expanded version with all 19 songs played at those two shows. To celebrate Record Store Day this year, Legacy has finally released the Complete Concert on vinyl for the first time.

 

The additional tracks, like “Southern Girls” and “Elo Kiddies” are just as impressive as those that made the first record, so it’s a little surprising they didn’t make the cut in the late ‘70s (this being the decade of bloated double and triple concept albums). After hearing the complete record it seems kind of pointless to go back to the original.

 

Though RSD has rightly gotten a bad rap lately thanks to vinyl versions of albums that really didn’t need to be repackaged (soundtrack to the movie Clueless?), Live at Budokan is clearly one of the best examples of cleaning the vaults and finding something valuable inside.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Southern Girls,” “ELO Kiddies” and “Oh Caroline”

 

DEBO BAND – Ere Gobez

Album: Ere Gobez

Artist: Debo Band

Label: FPE

Release Date: May 20, 2016

www.fperecs.com

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The Upshot: Boston-based, Ethiopian-inspired, this 12-man-strong Afropsychedelicafunkolistic outfit serves up a danceable delight.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Though based in Boston, the heart of the Debo Band is in Ethiopia. Formed by saxist/Sudan refugee Danny Mekonnen, the twelve-piece mixes originals (mostly penned by singer Bruck Tesfaye with either trumpeter Danilo Henriquez or violinist Joan Rapino) with tunes from or associated with the home country on Ere Gobez. Serious jazz chops are brought to bear on funky African grooves, as Tesfaye weaves his trill in and out of the arrangements and smart instrumental choices (the psych guitar on “Yachat,” the accordion throughout) give the music an accessibly oddball flair. In a direct nod to tradition, “Sak” (composed by Orchestra Ethiopia leader Tesfaye Lemma) incorporates the mesenqo (a one-string fiddle) for its undulating melody line. “Ele,” “Kehulum Abliche” and “Yachat” aim straight for the hips, while the ambitious take on the traditional tune “Oromo” encompasses everything from angular rock to easy listening to rave up dance music. “Yalanchi” rides a rhythm not that far from South American cumbia, while “Blue Awaze” adapts Duke Ellington – who toured Africa when it wasn’t common to do so – to the band’s vision. “Eyew Demanu” reigns in the hipsway for a rhythm closer to out-and-out rock. The group’s skill at twisting a variety of songs to fit their own approach, and doing it without even a whiff of gimmickry, is impressive. Coupled with its ear for a strong tune, that makes Ere Gobez a danceable delight.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue Awaze,” “Sak,” “Eyew Demamu”