Sunday, September 28, 2008


The Black Noise Scam at Rudy's tonight. Personally, I'm thrilled for singer Jeffrey T. from The Elm City. He's been trying to get a band together for about as long as I've known him and I'm glad the band that's stuck has been this -- four guys with a clearly deep knowledge of early punk rock and old-school hardcore, throwing down like something in The Decline of Western Civilization, Part I. Jeff jumped off the stage a number of times, sometimes climbing on tables and sometimes barrelling through the crowd. It can be difficult to get an audience at Rudy's (where people tend to place a priority on hanging out, rather than digging bands) engaged in a show, and I don't know if Black Noise Scam really did that, though if they didn't, it's of no fault of their own -- the audience simply might've been too grown-up or too cool to pick up what they were throwing down. It's not for the band's lack of trying. They were noticeably tight and remained true to the punk template to which they subscribe.

Broken played next, and while I was escorting a friend back home during their set, I missed much of it, but what I heard was as heavy and as hardcore-punk as anything I've known them to ever do. These guys are pros at their thing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Climb that mountain.

"Does anyone here go to Yale?" asked Phil Elverum during Mount Eerie's set last night (Sat., Sept. 26) at the New Haven People's Center.

Dead silence. This is unsurprising on two fronts: One, the psychological barrier for too many Yale students between Yale's campus and the rest of town is infamously high, even when it comes to a spot like the People's Center, a mere four blocks from campus. Two, there was a lot of silence during Mount Eeire's set. Many in the audience sat on the floor, soaking in the trio's quiet, subtly nuanced sounds, and the room was very dim, per Elverum's suggestion (some lights shone from the hallway and kitchen behind the band).

Someone near the front of the room answered in the positive to Elverum's question. "I was just wondering if there might be someone here who might become president someday," Elverum explained. "Because there's this little island I live on that's right near Canada? And I always kind of... wished it was? In Canada? Or sovereign?"

There was a lot of casual chatter like this, from all three acts (including Julie Doiron, formerly of Eric's Trip, and Calm Down, It's Monday), at a show that felt, like a lot of People's Center shows, like a gathering in someone's living room. Elverum talked about how he doesn't drink bottled water, pointing out it takes two gallons of water to create one gallon of bottled water (someone in the audience asserted, when Doiron retreated to the kitchen for a mug of tap water, that New Haven's tap water can be addictive -- Doiron conceded it was "very good" water and passed her mug to the electric guitarist, who appeared to sniff it). Doiron, during her set, promised to go three songs without talking in between but absolutely broke that promise; she talked about how one of the challenges of raising kids was remembering at all times how strongly children want their parents to love and respect them. A lot of times the adjective "intimate" gets tossed around in reference to shows where it's not really accurate -- "intimate" doesn't necessarily mean "quiet" or "in a small room" -- but this was one show where the room, the musical dynamic, the lyrical content, the conversation and the audience's reception all combined to an effect that really did feel intimate.

There's a difference between "intimate" and "insular," and I'd been fairly apprehensive of the latter. I'd seen Mount Eerie once before, maybe three years ago. Mount Eerie is essentially Elverum and (sometimes) friends, not a fixed band, and at the three-years-ago show it was him and a drummer, and about halfway through the set Elverum switched to drums, the other guy switched to guitar and vocals, and they announced this was a different band. Fine, but... I'd come to see Mount Eerie. That performance felt a bit insiderish and, to me, didn't really transcend. I started to fear the same thing happening on Friday once I realized all three acts were different configurations of the same three people -- Calm Down, It's Monday was an electric guitarist/singer named Fred with Doiron on drums and backing vocals, Doiron's set had her on electric guitar and vocals and Fred on drumkit, and Mount Eerie was Elverum on acoustic guitar and vocals, Doiron on vocals and Fred on electric guitar. Calm Down, It's Monday were ramshackle but charming -- Fred introduced songs as being in the vein of rock, country and folk, but it all seemed of a consistent, loose guitar-pop piece. Doiron played a handful of tuneful, relaxed (if a bit tentative) art-pop songs. Mount Eerie milked a lot of atmosphere from their simple lineup; Doiron's harmonies filled in the sonic space in pretty compelling ways, and Fred's guitar provided tasteful coloring. Elverum's songs tend to eschew traditional pop structures, instead starting at one point and ending at another point entirely, but when one pays attention to the lyrics -- often ruminations on aging, the desire to be loved and the importance of persevering through adversity and disillusionment -- the arcs of the songs make sense, and the trio's rising and falling dynamic helped underline those arcs. At some point towards the end of the set, Elverum appeared deeply moved by his own lyrics, his voice quavering during between-song banter as he rubbed his face. Sitting in the dark, it felt like an intense late-night discussion with a close friend. It felt special.

Panda and Tchotchkes

I told myself perhaps a year and a half ago, when I first saw Panda & Child, that I'd have to catch them whenever I reasonably could. I didn't anticipate this could one day mean "four times within a month or so," but that's how it's worked out, and I've held myself to it, dammit.

Saw Panda & Child again on Thursday (Sept. 25) at Cafe Nine, with Joanie Loves Tchotchkes and a shadow puppet show by Kim Mikenis. If it wasn't the most relaxed Panda & Child show I've ever seen, it was the most intense. I've blogged before about what they sound like, but there was a special electricity about their set on Thursday. It felt less performative and more personal than any point in the past when I've seen them. Some weird emotionality bubbled forth. Their engrossmen in their own sound and chemistry was forceful enough to suck the listener in, right to the center of it.

I've known Kim Mikenis casually for some time and have known of her work as an artist and puppeteer for years, yet this was the first time I'd seen her do the puppet thing. She enacted shadow puppet skits about a talking building, an evil liver that grants wishes, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. Her skits were rife with hyperlocal references -- if you're not from around here, you might not know why it's funny that a dude from East Haven would exclaim "Yo, fuckin' awesome!" and wish for a hot car and hot girlfriend, that DeLauro's appearrance would be punctuated by a handful of gauzy scarves being tossed at the audience, that anything would transpire behind West Haven fried-foods mecca Chick's, that a rollerskating gorilla would be spotted atop East Rock (I immediately thought of PLAY New Haven and fomer New Haven Advocate writer Craig Gilbert's penchant for appearing in public in a gorilla suit). Yet one didn't need to be a local to catch the absurdist hilarity of these ostensible fables in which there is no clear moral.

Joanie Loves Tchotchkes is a local supergroup of sorts (Sean was in the excellent garage-pop band The Battlecats, Kris is in country-punk band The Danglers and roots-rock band The Hickups, and Dave is in tuba-rock band The Gene Gnomes) whom I've been following since inception (as listings editor at the New Haven Advocate, I even helped create a consistent spelling of "Tchotchkes"), and they were really firing on all cylinders. Their set veers from early rock'n'roll to punk rock to country-rock, and nowadays they're fiery and consistently deliver the kind of hooks demanded by the classic pop structures of their songs. It's hard not to like a band that plays a country Christmas song in September, or a song called "Nazi Robots from Outer Space," no matter whether or not people keep handing you beers all night.

Pop, but with something else.

Internet connectivity issues (or, in other words, something that crapped out in the AT&T box outside my house) prevented me from getting to this right away, but still, better late than never, or something.

Saw The Broken West and Wye Oak at Cafe Nine on Tuesday (Sept. 23), with Aeroplane, 1929 also on the bill. The Broken West and Wye Oak are both relatively recent (well, within the past couple years) signees to Merge Records, one of a small handful of labels whereby I'll check out whatever they release. Merge specializes in acts that play what I've called "pop, but with something else." In the case of The Broken West, this meant, on their first album, I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, a rootsy approach to power-pop, and on their most recent, Now or Heaven, a more urbane and immediate and modern indie-zeitgeist-baiting sort of sound. In the case of Wye Oak, this means, on their full-length If Children, a moderately folksy leaning with some shoegazerish elements.

Suprises abounded. I knew Wye Oak had a way with a delicate melody and with a dynamic of atmospheric building-up and release, but I didn't expect them to rock so hard. Singer Jenn played electric guitar throughout, which allowed the duo to shoot off into the noise-pop stratosphere with some frequency. Drummer Andy also played a keyboard with one hand, filling in these seemingly phantom bass lines. The sound was strikingly full for a two-piece.

Meanwhile, The Broken West were brighter-sounding and more forceful than I'd expected. Their newer material in particular shone with big hooks and a pronounced sense of purpose. If there was something celebratory about their set, it might've come from the fact that two members of the band (who are based in L.A.) grew up in Branford -- guitarist Dan even introduced the band as "The Broken West, from Branford, Connecticut." In the audience, brothers and sisters and cousins and parents and maybe even grandparents were in full force. Gotta bring it for the fam. It's appropriate, then, that after their set, singer/guitarist Ross explained the band had felt compelled to deliver something appropriately killer once they'd signed to Merge (several months after recording and initially releasing their first album), a label he described as "like a family." Glad they pulled through, both live and on the record.

Locals Aeroplane, 1929 opened, and I'm personally rather excited by how much this band has matured in just the last year and a half or so (they're still quite young, with a few key members of the band still in college or even high school -- in fact, bass player Jake joked about his surprise at seeing one of his bandmates drinking a beer "because I'm, like, ten"). Often wordy and folk-rockish, they might've once been best described as a band that must've been listening to whatever Okkervil River was listening to, but their newest material is more tuneful than wordy, more urban than country and given to unorthodox song structures where, on occasion, the coda, not the chorus, is the emotional and dynamic apex.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

One of those Elephant 6 guys

Spoke on the phone yesterday with Julian Koster, lead guy from The Music Tapes and spearhead of the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour, which heads to The Space on Oct. 15. This is the tour at which about 15 people from the Elephant 6 Collective -- current and former members of Elf Power, The Gerbils, The Music Tapes, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and others -- play each others' songs in ensembles of varying size. Julian spoke about, amongst other things, the difficulty he had in getting work done when he tried to reconcile the things he valued and wanted to express with the limitations of the physical world itself. "I think I was being hard on physicality," he said. "I couldn't quite understand it. You go through the day and things have this glow. You want every physical act to have that. You want it to not be physical. Everything real is actually not physical. It's liking. It's love. It's happiness. It's wonder. It's care. What do you love? Do you love this cadaver? Can you make me a machine that is love?... The body is. And it's just enough to radiate that glow."

More on that soon. The New Haven Advocate has agreed to run my preview of that show in October.

Blowing the ol' goddamned mind

Got a few phone calls on Saturday afternoon, one inviting me to a house party somewhere in Westville and one encouraging me to get out on the town and do something to break my current avowed celibacy. Yet, thanks to an interaction I had while walking up Nicoll Street, in which I ran into a former university classmate who alerted me to the appearance in town that evening of "this band from New York called The Lay Lays or some other repeated syllables," I ended up at Cafe Nine digging Austin's The Low Lows and, once again, New Haven's M.T. Bearington. Seriously -- priorities. Rock music. Life itself is a matter of a few moments of transcendence couched in miles and miles of total bullshit. Of the options suggested to me, which offered the most promise of transcendence?

The Low Lows, who are on the lauded Misra label, pretty much rocked my socks off. I thought of conversations I've had with Brad from Titles about how when you write songs with not a lot of chords, you find you have all this space to stretch out melodically. The Low Lows stretch out, and they use these broad, structurally simple sonic expanses to throw a bunch of stuff into the mix. I believe there were six people onstage, and between them there was an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, two organs, two trumpets, a trombone and a drumkit. Plenty of opportunities for both atmospherics and counterpoint. There was something yearning and hopeful about these songs, even when they sounded dark and haunted -- melodies soared; the singer's trebly voice cut through the mix. There's some vaguely folksy sensibility about this band -- in the sense that folk music is the music that grabs you at gut level because you swear you've heard it before and possibly in some primal dream-state that has more to do with the way you relate to the world than anything you know you've experienced physically -- but it's run through some kind of wild psychedelicized filter. And lots of electric guitar tremolo. At times the horn lines felt rather derivative of the horn lines heard on Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but perhaps that's because I've had Elephant 6 on the brain this weekend. Lots of originality with The Low Lows, in any case.

In a flurry of text messaging, a friend and fellow music writer whom I'll identify here as Laz Helm came running down Crown Street to catch their set. Evidently he's been following The Low Lows for over a year but was unaware they were playing in town, and he eagerly geeked out with me near the front of the stage. And there was much rejoicing.

M.T. Bearington threw down appropriately hard. I've written about them recently, but I do feel the band's set felt more immediate and certainly more intimate last night than it did a week ago. Dunno what to chalk that up to -- some special magic, maybe, or the closeness of the band and of the band and the audience in a venue much smaller than BAR (though the closeness thing seems questionable, in light of how fiery and immediate their show at Toad's earlier this year felt). The air crackled with that which I could not quite pin down and articulate. Matt Wilson took the Mike Sembos role at this show, playing acoustic guitar and singing backing vocals. While the timbre of Mike's voice provides a contrast to Matt Thomas' that works extraordinarily well, and that timbre was lacking at this show, Matt Wilson gelled quite well with the band (and with minimal rehearsal time, according to M.T.). That probably speaks to the strength of the songs themselves.

Barn Burning opened up, a Providence-based art-folk-rock trio of guitar/vocals, drums and steel guitar. Technically proficient, but they could use some vocal melodies worth hanging one's hat on. Atmosphere's great, but hooks help.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I'm gonna be perfect starting now.

On Wednesday (Sept. 17), I saw Built to Spill and Meat Puppets at Toad's Place, with The Drones opening up. For Built to Spill and Meat Puppets, this was a tour connected in part to both bands' appearances at the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival's "Don't Look Back" series, in which key indie bands play certain epochal albums in their entirety. For BTS, this was Perfect from Now On; for Meat Puppets, this was Meat Puppets II. Both bands have spun off this invitation from ATP into tours wherein they're continuing to play the songs from those albums, front to back.

The Drones opened, and though they're from Australia, I know I've seen them before, opening for someone. They played meaty, mid-tempo (or sometimes just plain slow) two-guitars-bass-and-drums rock music, mostly in minor keys. Their songs are melodic and feature well-placed squalls of guitar noise -- it's an atmospheric, tension-building thing -- and they play as though they "mean it," urgently and with a lot of raw-nerved, throaty, passionate vocalizing from their lead singer. Hearing and seeing them, I was reminded of a smarter, more sincere version of the brooding alt-rock that ushered me into adolescence so many years ago. But after five or six songs, it got a bit samey. One gets the idea. There was an intriguing short set in here, but a full set felt downright dirgey.

I'd been looking forward to Meat Puppets' set. I'll admit: Meat Puppets II has been the only album of theirs I've heard that's really grabbed me. I can hear how its key elements (country and psychedelia into punk) have been absorbed by other bands, their peers and those who came later, and so it's difficult for me to imagine how weird and wonderful it must've sounded at the time, but I can still recognize the significance of the fact that they were doing it first. That album still holds a particular mystique and strangeness. Unfortunately, the band trampled all over that mystique. I recognize Meat Puppets' right to do whatever they want with their own back catalogue, but they blazed through the set with little regard to dynamic or nuance. Cris Kirkwood lunged all over the stage, his bass rather low in the mix and poking through only when he thrashed at it most vehemently -- in terms of pitch and attack, his playing was quite erratic. Curt Kirkwood sang clearly at points, approaching the unhinged high-register voice he employed during the mid-'80s, and his guitar leads often shot right off into space, but often the band was mired in devil-may-care thrash and blank, shouty vocals. The energy level was high, but the songs suffered for it. If I weren't already familiar with the album, I doubt that set would've demonstrated to me what was so special about it.

Built to Spill was another matter. I had high hopes: Perfect from Now On is one of my absolute favorite albums ever (blah blah blah, I was going through a rough time, a friend of mine handed me this CD, blah blah blah), and I'd already seen the band twice, both times at Toad's, once in 2000 and once in 2005. I'd been listening to Perfect from Now On quite a bit over the summer -- while driving up to Litchfield in August, along state roads passing through New England's forests and fields, I figured I had the most ideal musical accompaniment imaginable. However, no matter how right that disc felt along Connecticut's backroads with the windows down, it still didn't match seeing and hearing the songs erupt in front of my face. The band played it fairly straight, but with three guitarists and a cellist, they really could play it straight and still surpass the heights of that ambitious, layered album. It was great to see Doug Martsch playing those leaads again -- when I saw BTS in 2005, he was playing largely rhythm, and as solid as the band is, there's something special about his sensibilities as a player. (Worth noting: Doug's stage banter. Most of it consists of, after a song, his high, reedy and quick proclamation: "Thanks.")

Perfect from Now On is over an hour long and Built to Spill, in accordance with the tour's promise of "... and other favorites," followed up with the eight-minute-long "Goin' Against Your Mind," and all of that added up to, evidently, more than Toad's could deal with. While the band was prepared to keep going -- getting the cellist set up for another song and everything -- the show had to stop, shortly after midnight, to accommodate a pre-scheduled late-night dance party. The lights came up onstage and the DJ kicked in a thumping beat. Clubbers were already queued outside. It was a weird juxtaposition.

I didn't have a camera at this show, but New Haven Advocate blogger Tom MacMillan did, and he took some excellent photos, which you can view here (along with some comments I usurped for this particular post).

p.s. Bearington roolz.

That -- the title of this post. I'd added that to an e-mail I sent to my editor over at the New Haven Advocate, Dave Reidel. He'd panned the new M.T. Bearington album, Cloak of Nouns and Loss (Safety Meeting Records). I disagreed. (I'd actually gushed over it in the same issue of the paper, just a page or two away. A multiplicity of voices makes the paper more authoritative, after all!) I've been following Matt Thomas' work since I was in college and he was in Weigh Down (then The Weigh Down), and Matt's done the sort of thing I love to see artists do: He's grown creatively, steadily over time; each time it appears he's peaked, he tops himself with the next release.

That said, Matt's work is polarizing, and I recognize how it can be. A number of times over the past several years, while discussing Matt's music, the person I'm speaking with has said something to the effect of, "I just can't deal with his voice, though." I even wrote about this effect Matt's voice has, in a "Music Notes" column in the Advocate perhaps three years ago. I can understand. The things I love about Matt's voice -- its impassioned quaver, its unusual balance of frequencies that can make it sound muffled even when he's belting it out with all he has, its haunted vulnerability -- are the things that set some people on edge. And I haven't been fully behind him the whole time. When The Weigh Down were the toast of the town, or at least of the indie rock part of it, about six or seven years ago, I thought they were musically very solid and right with the moody, contemplative part of the indie zeitgeist, but I felt they needed a kick in the pants to elevate them beyond the level of "promising local band." Weigh Down really grabbed me when they dropped the "The" and reinvented themselves as this post-psychedelic, id-baiting kind of outfit. When the beautiful and high-stakes-sounding Welcome to the Family Zoo finally dropped on Safety Meeting last year, over two years after it'd been completed, it became one of my favorite records of 2007, period.

Then M.T. Bearington & the Bearington Band happened. Matt completed Cloak, his home-recorded -- mostly self-recorded -- album and assembled a crack band to open a Mates of State show at Toad's Place. What a way to preview a record -- it was primal, foreign but familiar, full of layers of melody and rich vocal harmonies, full-on, psychedelic, poppy, transcendent. Sure, Family Zoo was transcendent, but this was some next-level stuff. I tracked down Matt after the set. "I knew you were good," I said, "but I didn't realize you were a genius!" I said it 'cause I meant it, dammit.

Cloak had its CD release show on Sunday (Sept. 14) at BAR, and it's hard to say whether that show reached the highs of the show at Toad's some months ago, if only because of the sheer surprise that show offered, the excitement of seeing Matt's long-spoken-about solo project manifest itself as... this. There have been some lineup changes to the band, and it's still an excellent one, including current and former members of The Alternate Routes, Mountain Movers, Hotel and Pencilgrass. At its best, the band was breathtaking, and while Matt seemed perhaps more reserved than at the Toad's show, he also seemed more comfortable. The set felt most transportive when Matt gave the impression he was riding some frightening, weird wave created by the band around him.

Begushkin opened the show. They've come through town before, but I've missed them. They're part of the Locust Music family, an association that's made me wary -- one doesn't know what to expect, but it seems, with the Locust bookings Rick Omonte's had at BAR, I should be prepared for loose noise or psych-folk drones in D. There are nights when I want that and nights when I don't, and Sunday was one of those nights when I didn't. Gladly for me at that particular moment, Begushkin surprised me. They played largely minor-key, haunting sounds, vaguely Eastern European at many points. Someone standing close to me remarked they sounded like Tetris music. Personally, I'm happy when I can hear a band getting away from pentatonic scales in a highly melodic fashion.


So I went to the I AM Festival in New London (Waterfront Park) this past Saturday (Sept. 13), and it was pretty much awesome. Sunshine. Music. Right on the water. Like, this thing was on a giant pier; a lot of us really were, like, above the water. Good people all around. Lasted all day. ALL DAY. I mean, I got there at 1:15 in the afternoon -- which means I actually missed the first two acts, Great Skaught and Thick Thieves -- and I left from the afterparty (at the club once known as the El'n'Gee) at about 2 a.m. Remarkably, I was fairly rapt for almost the whole time; with two stages, one on each end of the pier, there were few, if any, lags for changeover (one band would set up on one stage while another band played on the other stage -- envisioning it? good).

This was one of those rare and wonderful examples of people coming together from all over Connecticut -- fans, sure, but also musicians (natch), music promoters, people who run record labels, media people. The synergy was really cracking; I mean, I hate the word "synergy," but key folks from New Haven, Hartford and New London were connecting, putting faces to names. Late in the day, under the tent where Safety Meeting Records and The Space had also set up shop with flyers and CDs and records, Mark from Manic Productions was marveling out loud about finally meeting people involved with Rock Yer Socks Booking, Wooden Man Records and New London's Sailfest. I know he meant to say, "I can't believe I'm meeting people whom I've been reading and hearing about for a long time," but in his excitement (and, at that point, fatigue) it came out, "I can't believe people are real!"

Man, Mark's gonna hate me for sharing that quote. Sorry, dude.

Jay Reatard headlined, and his set made me feel like I was 18. He's got all these jackhammer old-school punk rock songs, and -- Okay, wait. Let me clarify that. He actually has, like, three songs (one's thrashy skater-punk, one has a brooding retro-garage vibe and one is bright-sounding and more overtly poppy), but he rewrites them with enough variation that it's evident he knows exactly what he's doing. Loads of energy in the band's (Jay, a bassist and a drummer) set; Jay poured at least two beers onto his face and head. A pit broke out in front of the stage, of course (just a few feet from where I was standing), and at one point some dude came juggernauting up behind me and sent me flying about 10 feet into two very surprised young girls. Up the punks and all, but I'm getting too old for that kinda behavior.

Tiny Masters of Today played, and I think they were a late addition to the bill. This is that garage rock band that features a brother and sister, ages 14 and 12 respectively, and an older (and totally sick) drummer. They play songs like "Stickin' It to the Man" and sing-songy protest songs against G.W. Bush. Let me put it this way: If, by some strange twist of fate, I ever have kids, I want them to be like Tiny Masters of Today. (Dude standing behind me made an important point, though. "If they were, like, 18," I overheard him say, "we'd think they were terrible.")

Amongst other national acts: Kidz in the Hall were wicked high-energy, doing that thing that involves getting the crowd to chant "Real hip-hop" and to put their hands in the air and stuff, shouting for more dancing, showering the audience with bottled water (not really necessary at that point, I gotta say -- I was wearing a jacket), freestyling through DJ equipment failure. Kidz in the Hall. Killer jams. They were the only hip-hop crew of the day, unless you count Tiny Masters' impromptu reading of "Jump Around" following some kind of guitar or amp meltdown, and Martha Wainwright was the only solo performer. She had great command over the audience, though -- people were sitting in front of the stage, hanging on every word (even over the thumping of the festival's DJ booth down the road). My friend Dave put it best when I ran into him the following evening: "Those Wainwrights, man." Oakley Hall played while the sun was still up, and while their alt-country arrangements have a good sense of dynamic and melodic interplay, and while their vocal harmonies sound truly full and bright, I actually found the songs themselves fairly workmanlike. And Oneida -- it's a shame I missed part of their set, as the sudden descent of hundreds of mayflies and my own stabbing hunger drove me to walk back to my car for a Clif bar, because a number of people I respect whom I ran into over the coming days were like, "Wasn't Oneida awesome?" When I left, they were riding and adding a pretty compelling string of melodic variations to an essentially one-chord riff, driven by some highly energized drumming. When I came back, they were riding and adding a pretty compelling string of melodic variations to an essentially one-chord riff, driven by some highly energized drumming. I dug it.

One highly respectable (by my book) aspect of I AM was the fact that so many local/area bands were allowed on a bill that would assuredly draw hundreds of people, and that those local/area bands weren't quarantined to one stage, or to the earliest slots. Panda & Child and Atrina were right up there on the large stage ealier in the day, while Fatal Film played the second stage after the sun had gone down. Dan Barry, author of the Hartford Advocate's "Local Motion" column, has already written about some of the local acts, and accordingly it's kinda hard to approach the subject without responding to his points. Dan called Suicide Dolls "[his] favorite set of the whole fest," big-name acts inclusive. I know I can't pick a favorite act of the day/evening -- it's like apples and oranges and apples with DJs and pubescent oranges -- but I did find myself thinking, during SDs' set, "Okay; Suicide Dolls are better than this band, Suicide Dolls are better than that band..." In spite of how often they gig (it's a lot, and they'd just come off a two-week-long tour on Saturday), they're a bit underrepresented in local media, and they do have hooks to match their ambitious, art-punky sound. I was whistling Brian Suicide's guitar licks for days. That said, I've also seen them about five times already (and, full discretion, my band's gigged with them), so I'm bringing in some contextual appreciation, too. Context also possibly fuels my disagreement with Dan's assessment of Fatal Film. I've seen them perhaps once every six months or so for the last couple years -- never set out to see them specifically, but they keep popping up -- and to my ear, the batch of songs they're working with right now is not only their strongest and hookiest yet, it's just plain good, period. I've always admired their two-guitar interplay and sweaty, post-punk energy, but these days they're working with melodies as solid as their dynamic. Fatal Film has the residency at Piano's in New York City this month. Hopefully it'll help them catch on a bit beyond their hometown. Speaking of bands and their hometowns -- I know I've seen Hand Grenade Serenade's strand of rootsy, anthemic punk rock before, done with bigger hooks and by more idiosyncratic players, but the kids seemed to love their set, which reminded me that punk's not dead -- it's just localized. Its power is in the band in your town that does that thing. Many towns have a Hand Grenade Serenade, and every town needs one.

So many bands. I arrived just in time to catch Panda & Child; always enjoyable, their set plays like some kind of indie rock mix tape, ragged pop and surging post-rock and bursts of jagged aggression and airy passages. They remind me of the afternoon when I was 15 and first tuned into some college radio station out of Hartford and caught an earful of off-kilter 1990s indie rock by bands who have probably since been lost to time. Their instrumentation -- which includes trumpet, percussion, flute and sometimes two basses or two keyboards in the same song -- came out of the PA a bit muddy, though; I think their set translated better at Cafe Nine earlier the same week. I caught, for the first time, the current incarnation of Atrina -- Kelly L'Heureux has assembled a New Haven supergroup of sorts with Will Ianuzzi (The Vultures) on bass, Dave Parmelee (The Vultures, Goose Lane) on drums and Phil Law (Bloarzeyd, Old Man Lady Luck) on guitar. Their surging, minor-key, low-end-heavy mid-tempo riffing and Kelly's impassioned vocals all added up to an interesting contrast with the sunny afternoon skies and seaside setting, and this is a powerful, for-serious band, even if -- hate to say it, as I really like all these people -- Atrina is a case where "consistency" can drift into "saminess," no matter how evocative and rockin' the riffs are.

One person who commented on the online version of Dan's column felt he "[wasn't] fair to [noise-rock band] Brava Spectre, whose set was literally a spectacle -- like a bomb going off." Yes, it was a spectacle, a flurry of physical activity. I was talking about this with New London scene guy and radio host Marko after their set -- he felt their set sounded purposefully constructed, and he also pointed out that they were a young band, still teenagers by his estimation. I told him about my experiments with noise, when I was about 19 -- I fell on my face with it, because I didn't have enough outside reference points, didn't have enough structure. Brava Spectre hasn't reached transcendence yet with their music, but they seem to understand more about what they're doing than some noisefolks ten years their senior. It's tough for the listener to have an "in," if he or she isn't already immersed in that world -- which seems a good way to segue into Eula's set. Not that they're a noise band or anything -- they play spooky, driving, fractured art-pop sort of stuff -- but that for a long time, I couldn't find an "in," myself, because their set seemed like its own self-contained sonic world. I couldn't place an outside reference. Once I finally broke in, though, the quirks felt natural, the hooks were evident. And I've never seen them come off as more comfortable with their dynamic as on Saturday.

After Jay Reatard's set, I headed off to the afterparty at The Jinx, which used to be called The Backstage Pass but is best known for having been the El'n'Gee. I hadn't been since the Gee closed up shop the first time, much earlier this decade, and I was astounded at how much it'd changed. There was some kind of wooden dancing floor near the stage, and the bar itself was designed to look like half of an acoustic guitar (if you looked down at it from above). It was a far cry from the grubby punk club to which I'd hauled down from Bristol with my high school friends to see, like, The Dropkick Murphys in the late 1990s. Entering the men's room, I looked for the old scrawl near the ceiling that read "WRESTLING IS REAL," and of course it was gone. I'm too old to be whanged from behind by some moshing dude during Jay Reatard's set, but too young for nostalgia. What an odd place to be seemingly gentrified, a club on a dim street near downtown New London.

Anyway, I caught only a few seconds of Wonderlust's set (I was outside, talking with a few people about how what had been billed as a $5, 16+ show ended up costing under-21ers $8), which is a shame, but I'd been looking forward to seeing Gone for Good, who New London music promoter Sean Murray had been talking up for a while. "They're thee New London band right now," Brian Suicide told me. And they were solid -- poppy, rocking, tight, good vocal harmonies. Entirely accessible stuff -- I thought of the power-poppier end of the "new wave" thing (I hate that term, but whatever you want to call it, late-'70s/early-'80s guitar-pop seemed to be the clearest reference point. A few quirks, a few surprises, would make their songs more compelling, but that might diminish their appeal, too. Who knows. Mostly I wanted to see Quiet Life, and they burned the place up. At such a late hour and on their home turf, they were reckless and celebratory, and there's nothing like a band of proficient musicians getting reckless. While they've become increasingly able at nicking classic country-rock stylings over the past few years, here they were an amped-up rock'n'roll bar band. According to singer Sean, he's moving to California with his girlfriend and the rest of the band will follow in January. Bummer for us.

I left my house around noon feeling awful -- I'd just had a miserable previous few days. All the way to New London, I'd thought about how the past five or so times I'd been out there, I'd arrived feeling really down and left feeling great. Happened again. Dunno what it is. I show up and I feel welcomed, wanted. And then, usually, there's an awesome show. Thanks, guys.

Hey, all.

Welcome to LaRuminator. Yeah, I started a blog. Since I quit my full-time job at the New Haven Advocate and went freelance, a lot of people have asked me whether I have a blog. I can thank Tom Sommerville for giving me the kick in the pants I needed to finally start one. When he asked a few weeks ago if I had a blog and I said I didn't, he asked, "Why not?" And I didn't have an answer.

Got hung up on the title for a while. I'd been set on Hip Priest, after the song by The Fall about a dodgy rock journalist who imagines himself "no-o-ot... ap-pre-ci-ated," but it turns out about five people already had that idea. I don't recall exactly who it was who once addressed me as "LaRuminator" -- it was either Chris Greenland, onetime booking agent at The Space in Hamden, or Tim Parrish, head of Southern Ct. State U.'s creative writing program. So, thanks to both those guys.

I'm gonna toss up a whiz-bang assessment of a few shows I've been to this past week -- all "late," really, in terms of blog-time, but you gotta start somewhere. Now that I have this, I'll have to remember to bring my camera to shows.