Monday, July 17, 2017

Midsummer Housekeeping - The Missing Writeups

In my late-May outlook on upcoming shows, I enthusiastically promised a great summer. That has held true in that the shows have been killer, but I can't help but feel guilty to have missed writeups on a few. I did take a few notes at the shows though, and otherwise can go from memory- because at any rate, it feels necessary to at least touch on these before moving on


*BIG NECK FEST - The Hussy, Wood Chickens, Fresh Flesh, No Hoax
High Noon Saloon, 6/2/17

SEE BELOW*



The Pines, High Noon Saloon 6/15/17 (w J Hardin)

Live music has a way of making a person feel a little bit less alone. Such was the vibe I had entering this show at my home-away-from-home. Local troubadour J Hardin had already taken the stage, with a soft orange lamp casting glow over his worn cowboy boots and open guitar case. Being accustomed to more..aggressive..bands, it was a bit jarring to not have to yell towards the doorman and bartenders, as well as to see the entire floor covered with tables and chairs instead of thrashing bodies. I loved it though after the initial adjustment- the audible clanking of bottles and occasional snippet of conversation only added to the ambience. All said, the context was ripe for Hardin and his "Coyote Brother" bandmate to ease out a heartfelt, at times foot-stomping, set of authentic backcountry strummin'

The Pines took the stage after a short layover with shimmering acoustic guitar and lush keyboard arrangements. The bass was mixed heavy, and one guitar occasionally asserted itself with an overdriven pickup. It took a bit to pick up on what they were putting down, but once I was on-board the dynamic play was admirable. In addition, the band featured two singers; one with a near-falsetto approach and the other with a John Prine-esque conversational tone. They worked this contrast well, and incorporated a lot of onstage banter about woodchucks and the summertime absence of college kids.

The show's relaxed and intimate atmosphere overall proved to be a welcome change-of-pace.


The Joy Formidable, High Noon Saloon 6/21/17 (w/ Eagle Trace)

I came to this one right from work, and unfortunately missed Eagle Trace. Fortunately though I walked in just in time to feel like I was being hit by a train as The Joy Formidable took the stage. While they adhere to certain pop sensibilities, in a live setting the band is clearly anchored to sheer noise and volume. This was the last stop on their current tour, and the impression was that we were getting everything they had left in the tank.

The songs, of course, where there. But nearly every one broke down into violent, fall-on-the-stage feedback, and nearly every one led into a strangely polite, very British introduction to the next aural sledgehammer.  I didn't have the wits about me to take notes on this show, so I can't comment on specifics, but I certainly remember the pummeling noise and conversational banter leading to a very amusing contrast.  


Deerhoof, High Noon Saloon 6/29/17 (w/ Proud Parents, Solid Freex)

I again missed the beginning of this show while being stuck at work.  I wish I could tell you how awesome Solid Freex are, but for the meantime we have to settle for a friend's assessment that "they rock" and "they sound like a Madison band..."


In the meantime, however, Proud Parents are becoming my pick as most exciting local band to see.  They have a very accessible way of bashing out songs that just gets more enjoyable every time.  It isn't so much that you have to be in on the joke to "get" them, because the band seems to effortlessly expand the joke so that it encapsulates everyone.  Proud Parents drop mortar shells, whether they are euphoric vocal harmonies or pinpoint guitar leads.

I'm intimidated to even write about Deerhoof.  I don't know that I've ever had more fun at a show.  The way that they combine rockin' grooves, oddball song structures, and daring vocal style is unlike anything I have seen.  They brought a virtuostic drummer and equally adept guitar master.  As a band Deerhoof operated as a nearly Lovecraftian entity; altering the very way we perceive music.  For the daring, they provide a rare bastian into the subconscious depth of fun itself.

*Wood Chickens stole this show, and will be covered in an upcoming review of their brand new album COUNTRYCIDE- stay tuned!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

SHOW REVIEW: Bad Bad Hats - High Noon Saloon 7/13/17 (With Heavy Looks, Disq)



Minneapolis group Bad Bad Hats took full advantage of a surprise headlining slot Thursday night.  The High Noon show was originally set to feature Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, who were forced to cancel all of their performances in July, citing personal reasons.  The show went on, with Bad Bad Hats and Heavy Looks moving up the lineup and local group Disq added as the opener.  The High Noon allowed ticket returns and offered a new discounted price, and turnout was impressive nonetheless.  

I must admit with guilt that after a cumbersome work shift I didn't arrive at the show until Disq's last few songs.  Being unfamiliar with the band, I was surprised to walk in and see a teenaged quintet fronted by something of a Lou Reed lookalike.  Their sound held up strong though, with a nice dynamic at play between tight three-guitar rhythms and mellowed out Pavement-esque vocals.  They ended their set with a pretty ballsy "She's So Heavy" type blues jam.  I don't feel like I caught enough of them to write a whole lot without getting ahead of myself, but I am grateful that this show put them on my radar- it will be exciting to see where they take things.


Heavy Looks
I apologize for being the world's shittiest concert photographer

Madison's Heavy Looks formed while co-songwriters Dirk Gunderson and Rosalind Greiert were studying at UW-Stevens Point.  There they both worked as DJs for the student radio station, leading to a wealth of influences which they proudly wear on their sleeves.  With their alternating vocals and swaggering midtempo grooves, Heavy Looks sound a bit like they've stepped right out of the late-80's college radio heyday.  Rosalind's smoky vocals smoldered over a backing band that rollicked with a cocky, freewheeling aesthetic reminiscent of Patti Smith's group.  She traded lead singing duties song-for-song with Dirk, who channeled Thurston Moore at his most playful moments.  Their set lagged a bit during the more somber songs, but they ramped it back up to end with some straight-forward rockers that sounded like a less try-hard version of The Distillers.  I would have liked to see them play longer, but as an active band in the local scene there will surely be future opportunities to do so.


Bad Bad Hats

As Bad Bad Hats took the stage shortly after 10:00, it marked the beginning of a six-week tour for the band.  It was also the seventh time they have performed in Madison.  Frontwoman Kerry Alexander noted that we are nearing "gold pin status" - which would signify ten shows on her personal corkboard-map system of commemorating the towns in which they have played.  The front half of the floor had filled up by this point, and the band was received as one of our own.  They drew a mostly college-aged crowd and the show had an almost festival-like atmosphere - very friendly and positive.  

The Hats launched into their version of indie-pop, featuring a spacious, 60's-esque bounce which allows plenty of room for playful music box guitar leads and understated singing.  Kerry uses her beautiful voice as an instrument of its own, employing a breathy vocal technique and hints of a faux British accent which fit her persona and the musical context perfectly.  

I did not anticipate laughing as much as I did during this show, with Kerry's quirky onstage banter doubling as a mini-standup routine between songs.  Speaking in an awkward near-monotone, she introduced each song with anecdotes that were often vague but always relatable, and delivered in hilarious deadpan fashion.  Her bandmates cracked up along with the audience as she meandered through monologues about "Super America providing the snacks, while (she) provides the sorrows" and sleeping with her phone under her pillow...just in case.  This observational and accepting attitude towards 20-something life is mirrored by her songwriting.  She sings bluntly on themes of loneliness and unrequited love without falling into the traps of wallowing nor sugarcoating.  She allows herself to hurt, but maintains a balanced, sort of omniscient perspective which gives usually painful subject matter a cathartic buoyancy.  

Kerry established such an effective connection with the audience that the entire room became dead quiet as she began the heartbreaking Things We Never Say.  Alone with her guitar she bared her soul with the confessional song which she'd introduced as being about what you wish you could tell somebody but never do.  It was a powerful moment in contrast to the preceding lightheartedness of the set.  As the final notes rang out everybody stood silent and captivated until her smiling "thank you" triggered the night's biggest applause.  


The band used this momentum to slingshot into a series of upbeat rockers.  A muscular rendition of Shame in particular ramped up the energy level, and they ended their main set on a high note.  After exiting the stage, Kerry quickly returned by herself, announcing a "surprise cover song from (her) childhood".  After slowly plucking a few vaguely recognizable chords, it soon became apparent that we were being treated to the most harrowing and somber imaginable take on Blink 182's All The Small Things.  It closed the evening with a wink, encapsulating the earnest, heartfelt, and innocent nature of the band.


Kerry Alexander

Bad Bad Hats' tour continues with three weekend stops in Michigan.  Their much-anticipated sophomore LP is currently in the mixing process.  I personally cannot wait until their next Madison visit (and second and third after that on our way to that gold pin!)

Heavy Looks performs next Thursday at Milwaukee's Riverwest Public House, then the Art In here in town on 7/28


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Sunday, May 21, 2017

NOISEPAPER PICKS 5/20 - 6/30



This is a subjective selection of upcoming local shows that have caught my eye.  It may (and hopefully will) be updated; not that it isn't a hell of a lineup already.  In the words of DeNiro's Jimmy "The Gent" Conway, "It's gonna be a good summer!"

May 25  Williamson Magnetic Recording Company
Heavy Looks, Laurel & The Love-In, Purra
For Fans of:  Florence + The Machine, Jimmy Eat World, Rilo Kiley
All Ages.  Donation of $5.  No Drinking.

May 27  Mickey's Tavern
Christian Dior, Sam Coffey, The Smells
For Fans of:  The Hussy, Miyha, noisey garage-pop...THIS is the new Madison Sound!
21+  FREE


JUNE 2  High Noon Saloon
BIG NECK FEST NIGHT 1  
The Hussy, Wood Chickens, Fresh Flesh, No Hoax
For Fans of:  Ty Segall, Nobunny, Jay Reatard, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Bikini Kill, Black Flag...just come to this fucking show
*The Hussy 7" Release, Wood Chickens LP Release!!
18+.  $8.  No dicks, no squares.

JUNE 3  Mickey's Tavern
BIG NECK FEST NIGHT 2
Fire Heads, Gallery Night, Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, T-Tape
For Fans of:  Dinosaur Jr, Bad Brains, fun, beer
21+.  FREE.  No dicks, no squares.

JUNE 8  Williamson Magnetic Recording Company
Jonesies, Hey Sheboygan!, Glassmen
For Fans of: Fun, bouncy, boy/girl indie pop.  Minutemen, Vampire Weekend
All Ages.  Donation of $5.  No Drinking.

JUNE 20  Mickey's Tavern
Spokes, Suzi Trash, Mad Max Elliot
For Fans of:  King Tuff, Ty Segall, Suicide, Nobunny
21+.  FREE.



JUNE 21  High Noon Saloon
The Joy Formidable, Eagle Trace
For Fans of: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire, XX, Belle & Sebastian
18+.  $18 adv/$20 door

JUNE 23  High Noon Saloon
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Tony Molina, Ablebody
For Fans of:  Wild Nothing, My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths
18+.  $15 adv/$17 door



JUNE 29  High Noon Saloon
Deerhoof, Proud Parents, Solid Freex
For Fans of:  Captain Beefheart, Boredoms, Olivia Tremor Control, The Cars, Eagles of Death Metal...again, come to this motherfucker!
18+.  $15 adv/$18 door






Friday, May 19, 2017

SHOW REVIEW: Hippo Campus - Majestic Theatre 5/18/17 (with Remo Drive)




I was not quite sure what I was walking into Thursday night at The Majestic.  With no prior knowledge of Hippo Campus, I signed on to work the show based on the punny name and their descendence from a Twin Cities scene that has bred so many of my favorite bands.  What I didn't expect was a scene straight out of Beatlemania.  Hippo Campus drew a sold-out crowd of 600 predominantly high school and college-aged girls.  Many of them had been waiting outside the venue since before noon (some of those die-hards are in the picture above - taken that morning while I was hanging flyers).  While not the crowd I am accustomed to, there is no vibe quite like a sold-out show and the energy was almost tangible.

Fellow Twin Cities act Remo Drive opened the show shortly after 9:00.  They were well-received by a crowd that was ready to explode had it been Ronald McDonald taking the stage.  With a deafening burst of feedback, Remo Drive asserted themselves as no clowns.  A band that is gaining traction in punk circles, they flaunt a big sound for a trio.  They came out firing with a sound that is equal parts a throwback to classic emo and a genre-savvy, forward-thinking take on pop-punk.  Volatile bursts of noise were offset by calculated breakdowns and non-subtle emoish reflection.  I would have loved to see them ride on the chaos more without getting bogged down by borderline corniness, but the band burned hot throughout and they delivered it well.  Looking barely out of high school, their enthusiasm was contagious as they led the audience through a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for their friend Michael, asked if anybody in the crowd had heard of them before (and seemed genuinely blown away by the positive response), and made sure everyone got the irony of them naming their brand new debut album "Greatest Hits".



While the collective screech and eruption of cellphone glow upon their entrance suggested otherwise, Hippo Campus proved to be more indie rock than boy band.  They displayed a polished and energetic version of hipster-pop, using unfamiliar time signatures and instrumental timbres to evoke world music in a way similar to bands such as Vampire Weekend, as well as the literacy and sophistocation of Car Seat Headrest.  While this may sound like the formula for a contrived and pretentious sound, their accessible stage presense and humble delivery made it nothing but positive and fun.  Barefooted singer Jake Luppen in particular took remarkable command of the stage without needing to say much to the audince.  He instead opted to let the bouncy, danceable tunes speak for themselves.  Rather than the typical tired onstage banter and posturing, he engaged the crowd in a lot of clapping and singing-along, while letting the atmosphere settle in between songs before stirring it back up again.  The setlist was spot on, balancing its more somber moments with the beach-party aura of its peaks.  This combined with an impressive light show to make it seem like a much bigger concert.

I consider myself won over by both of these young bands.  I don't know if they'll make their way into my listening rotation, but they are certainly on my "keep an eye on" list and I would not hesitate to catch either of them the next time they're in town.  In a locale as nurturing as the Twin Cities there is no limit to their impending success.


Monday, May 15, 2017

SHOW REVIEW: The Dear Hunter - High Noon Saloon 5/14/17 (with Brett Newski)



By the time The Dear Hunter took the stage at High Noon Saloon Sunday night, the near-capacity crowd was primed and ready.

Local DIY hero Brett Newski opened the show, one night after the release of his LP "The Worst of Brett Newski".  Newski draws a loyal following to any Wisconsin show, and he played his 35-minute set as if it was for his closest friends.   Alone on stage with his acoustic guitar (which he "should not have bought while living in Vietnam"), Newski established an effortless connection through his comical mixture of satirical and self-deprecating songs - often introduced with personal anecdotes such as finding out just how many "eskimo brothers" you have, and the downside of Vietnamese guitars.  His new song "Bro Country" was particularly well-received by the demographic, skewering America's douchiest genre with such lines as "Johnny Cash is rolling in his grave/Wishing he was still alive so he could blow his brains away".  Two of his later songs included audience participation - which only required a little bit of explanation and cohersion on Newski's part after expressing his sympathy, ("Yeah, I know this sucks...").  All were left won over by his down-to-earth aura of unabashed dorkiness.



On a tour in which they have primarily opened for Coheed and Cambria, The Dear Hunter reveled in the headlining opportunity.  While the Rhode Island sextet was thrilled to perform a full set for a full crowd, they also admitted to having no idea what to talk about between songs.  They eventually landed on Rick Sanchez impersonations and a brief analysis of their  dreams from the previous night -which involved "endangered 'tiger-bear' cubs'" and only selling four tickets.

There were far more than four atendees however, and The Dear Hunter's nearly-operatic brand of indie rock kept every one of them engaged.  The dirty guitar-rock of heavier songs such as  "The Most Cursed of Hands" offset the more grandoise elements of their catalog, and every song was performed with the urgency for which they've become known.  They did not perform an encore, deciding that "instead of going into a room for a few minutes and pretending (they were) gone, (they would) just play  the rest of (their) songs" - a simple yet endearing touch that is  very fitting of the band's aesthetic.



The Dear Hunter's tour continues tonight in St. Louis, while Brett Newski returns to his nomad lifestyle in Milwaukee.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Matt's Favorite Summer Albums: The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold as Love (1967)



In artistic depictions of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, their power is often conveyed through multiplication of arms, legs, and heads.  Jimi Hendrix's choice of this style for the cover art of Axis: Bold as Love made his sophomore record a bold statement before it even hit the turntable.  Nestled squarely between the noisy blues assault of Are You Experienced and the distant psychedelic horizons of Electric Ladyland, Axis: Bold as Love saw Hendrix assert himself as the world's all-powerful leader into uncharted musical territory.  Hendrix was so far ahead of the game that his legend only continues to grow with time.  During his run in the mid-60s he couldn't have been seen as anything less than an otherworldly force, seemingly boundless in capability.  We’re going back almost 50 years for this one, but it’s an album that still sounds about 50,000 years ahead of its time.

Jimi’s R&B influences are most apparent here, with songs such as Up From the Skies, You Got Me Floatin’, and Little Miss Lover featuring delicate play of dynamics at work with fun, bouncy rhythms and swaggering vocals beneath the roaring feedback and in-your-face live production. This juxtaposition is especially potent on Wait Until Tomorrow: possibly the most perfect pop song Hendrix ever wrote without sacrificing any of his freewheeling nature.



The main event though is of course the guitar work, with Hendrix laying down some of his most aggressive studio playing. Spanish Castle Magic is a bolt of unbridled electric energy, and If 6 Was 9 smolders and snarls like a cornered dog. Meanwhile Little Wing reigns immortal with his most emotive and dynamic soloing (recorded using a spinning "leslie" speaker cabinet), and Castles Made of Sand uses a blues structure to anchor groundbreaking exploration in backwards tape echo and looping effects. It all comes to an explosive breaking point during the passionate title track. Bold as Love is a workout of muscular guitar and chest-thumping chorus, coming to a brief false-ending. At that point, with a phased out drum fill, Bold as Love transcends time and space via incendiary lead guitar melodies that give way to a soaring sea of effects and distortion, ending the album as a crashing wave.

It is becoming increasingly true that no matter what happens in the music world, Jimi Hendrix will always sound fresh and new. It is what made him so groundbreaking at the time, and the reason why his music still resonates today. His crest-of-the-wave sound and approach seems like it hit a natural stride with this album, giving it a sense of excitement and fun throughout- perfect for summer.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Matts Favorite Summer Albums: Tame Impala - Currents (2015)

[Just about five years ago I posted My Top Ten Summer Albums. Those albums still remain in constant rotation during the warm months, but I have been looking forward to doing a followup article for some time. A handful of albums have since jumped out at me enough to write about, so I've decided it's time for part two. There are less entries in this batch, and the writeups turned out to be longer, so it seemed appropriate to roll them out one at a time. Anyway, off we go...]






For his followup to 2012’s guitar-heavy masterpiece Lonerism, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker resolved to incorporate more R&B influences into his brand of psychedelia in pursuit of a more danceable, pop-oriented sound.  Along the way he transcended the thematic loneliness and isolation of Lonerism and its predecessor Innerspeaker to settle into a groove within the greater flow of life.  I’m not well-versed enough on Parker’s personal life to call Currents a breakup album, but in a sense it certainly plays like one. Rather than dwelling on loss, it focuses on the reclamation of oneself.   Parker steps back from the puzzle and gains a view of the picture it is forming.  Under the taking of such a perfectionist and music obsessive this all leads to a nearly perfect, universally enjoyable, defining work.


As they’ve always done, Tame Impala evokes the spirit of 1960's psychedelic rock in such an authentic and confident manner that it never sounds nostalgic or derivative.  Currents ramps up the modernism, giving the overall sound the timeless nature of a dream.  Basslines thump and throb, guitars mesh with synthesizers to alternate between soaring leads and gritty low grooves, and processed vocals become an ethereal instrument of their own. 





Parker works all of this push-and-pull into his unique mold of impeccable songcraft.  In his trademarked falsetto croon he ruminates on personal change and transcendence.  Album opener Let it Happen immediately evokes the background of the album’s cover, a network of pathways representing the world’s infinite perpetuation and the constant sensory barrage of life ("it's always around me, all this noise...").  We all have the tendency to tune it out, either for the purpose of fighting against it in pursuit of one's one end, or for letting it carry us away in apathy.  As it turns out, life lies within that flow, and the only solution is to jump in.  Upon doing so one comes the realization that they were "ready all along".  Yes I’m Changing emphasizes the other half of the cover art: the splashes of color and rippling aftereffects created by each individual’s actions and perspective.  By accepting that "life is moving" he is able to stop hiding and manifest "another version of (him)self".  With these two songs, and throughout the album as a whole, Parker presents the universe as an unstoppable force while recognizing that same power in himself. By virtue of simply living as part of the universe, he holds all of its power, able through his decisions and actions to alter its very fabric beyond any possible comprehension – simultaneously likewise for every individual in any given moment: "There's a world out there and it's calling my name/and it's calling your's too".  On Eventually, Parker seems to reach a sublime contentment in this realization of infinite eternity, even in the face of the toughest decisions. 




Currents is primarily an album about coming into one’s own via surrender to the bigger picture and the present moment.  True to this theme, Parker’s vocals surface opportunistically, before giving way to infectious beats and overwhelming waves of sound.  The start/stop rhythms are reminiscent of both vintage R&B and modern electronic/dance music, around which otherworldly guitars swirl with the freedom of not having to carry the track.  Parker has an uncanny knack for managing noise and the space between.  On Currents they are two sides of the same coin, rising to perfect crescendos at the most organic moments. 


Currents greatest strength is the timeless ease of its experience.  Through its free-flowing melodicism it becomes a soundtrack to the world unfolding around oneself.  Every part is integral, giving the overall product a profound sense of oneness. All of life is right here, and there is nothing to do but live it.   In that, Currents becomes an encapsulation of summer itself.


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