Friday, October 24, 2008


Hi! I'm taking a hiatus from LaRuminator for a while. When I return, it'll be more aesthetically pleasing and less wack.

Some things worth pointing out:

1. At the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise show at The Space last Wednesday, Jeff Mangum was not present. Just so you know. But I've been fairly annoyed with the fact that however awesome the songs of The Olivia Tremor Control; The Music Tapes; Pipes You See, Pipes You Don't; Nana Grizol; Elf Power and The Gerbils frequently are, so much attention to this tour has been focused on this possibility that Jeff Mangum might show up. Don't get me wrong: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is probably one of my absolute favorite albums ever, too, but this does not mean Scott Spillane and Julian Koster's ramshackle trumpet/accordion arrangement of Aeroplane instrumental "The Fool" was worth more hushed reverence than Bill Doss and Koster's beautiful vocal/12-string electric guitar/singing saw arrangement of OTC's "No Growing (Exegesis)." For example. And how about yourself? Can you appreciate this crazy-ass sing-along campfire-style revue for what it's worth? Or do you need the brief appearance of a reclusive genius to truly enjoy it?

2. Gringo Star's All Y'all and their live show are equally awesome. I have never seen them tighter and more assertive than they were at BAR on Sunday. Seems like the psych-pop element of their sound is seeping out in place of a broader-reaching retro-rock sort of thing.

3. Why weren't you at the Griefs show at Cafe Nine? Were you unaware this band has better songs than the vast majority of garage rock bands out there right now?

4. On a political note, my friend Joe Killian, a reporter in Greensboro, NC, was kicked and knocked over by a McCain supporter while reporting a McCain/Palin rally where Sarah Palin was speaking. (Keep in mind Joe is about six feet tall and kind of jacked, and he trained as a boxer through most of his college years.) Meanwhile, this young woman in Pittsburgh made up a bunch of junk about getting jumped by an Obama supporter, and now everyone knows about her lies. Sigh.

See you in the future.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fucked Up: "Canadian priorities are fucked up."

"The Canadian election is tomorrow," Fucked Up singer Pink Eyes said in the middle of the Toronto band's set at the Heirloom Arts Theatre in Danbury tonight. "No one cares. No one cares. Everyone in Canada wants to vote in the American election. Canada. Is. Pathetic. This next song is called 'Crooked Head,' about how Canadian priorities are fucked up."

It was an interesting turn of phrase, y'know, considering. But it was seamless, with the smarts and attitude of their set. Aside from having a fairly perfect name, Fucked Up is doing exactly what should be done with hardcore punk rock. If there's a more musically sophisticated, musically smarter band in hardcore right now, I want to know about it, and immediately. Their set proved them to be musically all over the map -- there are elements of art-rock, soul, early rock'n'roll and pop in their material, but they rev it all up and place it into a punk idiom. I wonder if the kids even knew what to do with it. I had to contrast the way the crowd treated them to the way the crowd treated opening band Hostage Calm (a very good old-school hardcore band with some catchy riffs and a totally sick drummer). During Hostage Calm's set, the kids erupted into a circle pit that took up maybe a third of the Heirloom's floor (I watched from the bar area upstairs -- have you ever watched a circle pit from a story up? it's kind of aesthetically interesting). During Fucked Up's set, there was a mass of kids near the stage, jumping up and down, climbing on each other's shoulders and straining for one of Pink Eyes' many passes of the microphone over the audience -- but very little moshing. Were the kids that absorbed, or did they just not know how to dance with this stuff? Can you mosh to the MC5? The Wipers? Fucked Up? I dunno; you'd have to get creative.

Two things worth pointing out: The members of Fucked Up collectively look a few years younger in person than they do in any photo I've seen of them, and Pink Eyes looks... bigger. He pulled off his shirt during the first or second song, and he's a heavy dude. Yet his energy is formidable. He began the set crouched near the front of the stage in a knees-bent hardcore stance and commenced owning the crowd from there. At one point, he mentioned he thought he'd thrown his back out; shortly thereafter he pulled a kid from the audience and told him to take his shoes off and stand on his back as he laid on the stage. There was something special going on between him and the audience.

Vivian Girls played before Fucked Up, and I'd been anticipating seeing them quite a bit, as I've been reading about them a lot -- usually glowingly, yet the songs I'd heard had done nothing for me melodically. Tonight, they sounded kind of like the late '50s or early '60s, if that era had included punk rock as we know it and had happened in space, and "space" was an urban art loft somewhere. Somewhere with a lot of reverb. In other words, they're working with about a zillion Things I Like. But only rarely did I really "see it." They have these great chord progressions that call to mind classic pop music, onto which they occasionally lay squalls of arty noise, but only four or so songs had catchy melodies to speak of. Those songs kind of ruled, but the rest of the set sounded... off. Maybe they were very sharp (vocally), maybe very flat, maybe based around the fifth of the chord rather than the more traditionally melodic root or third, maybe beginning or resolving a full tone or so off of the expected pop-song milieu. Maybe it's a matter of context. I'd heard them referred to as an excellent noise-pop band, and they were not. And yet everything I'm saying they did not-so-well are things I'd excuse in a good garage-punk band -- perhaps that's actually what they are, in reality. In that mode, it worked. Is it worth noting that the main singer played a Fender Squire guitar? That's like the Waterbury of Fender guitars: Close, trying, not entirely "it." Ignore the blogs and approach Vivian Girls as if they were their own thing -- something I'm evidently not able to do.

Missed 76% Uncertain -- again. I don't know if I'm the only person in Connecticut who grew up listening to punk rock yet has never seen 76% Uncertain or what. I've certainly tried a number of times. Hasn't worked out. Pink Eyes gave a shout-out to them, telling us we were lucky to have a band like that in Connecticut that was still active. I think he's right, but I have yet to see in person exactly why. Dammit.

Man, Oh Man.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The summer of 2006 was really bad for me. It started when my friend/roommate/bass player's long process of avoiding/not talking to me culminated at a point when I came home from work and found all of his stuff was gone from our apartment. I had no answers about what was going on in his head, and he hadn't even finished recording his bass parts on the EP we were making. Just a few weeks later I broke up with the girl I'd been seeing -- we're finally friendly again these days, so I won't get into it, but those days were heavy, sad and painful. The disintegration of two very important interpersonal relationships and the fracturing of my band should've dictated I dealt with things immediately, but within the span of about two months, four of the seven full-time members of the New Haven Advocate's editorial staff left the paper (for various reasons -- life stuff, mostly), and by August my two remaining full-time colleagues (and one very dedicated freelancer) and I found ourselves pulling 10-to-12-hour workdays. I was working, walking home in darkness, typically drinking too much before going to bed, waking up feeling muddleheaded and bad, even working weekends, hitting up Saturday-night afterparties. Lather in malaise, rinse with anguish, repeat. I swam in a river of cheap bourbon populated with the angry man-eating fish of loneliness, guilt, dread, heartbreak, fatigue and regret. It was crappy to the max.

That was the atmosphere in which I became mildly obsessed with Man Man's Six Demon Bag. My god, it sounded like what the inside of my head felt like -- addled, broken-down, frenetic, haunted. I would listen to nothing but for days on end, edified by little but the truth that my reality had been manifested in this record.

Two years later, I found Man Man's Rabbit Habits similarly edifying. In that time, all of the problems I faced in the summer of 2006 have been resolved -- the band's been reconstituted in particularly powerful form, I've gotten some answers about what happened with/to the disappearing kid, the girl and I reconciled, the editorial department was beefed up again and then I quit, I've surrounded myself with good people who consistently remind me of the good things I have going for me. Rabbit Habits has been my soundtrack this summer for getting my head on straight, kicking against the bad vibes and forging onward no matter what kind of security net I have at my disposal. That's what's going on in Rabbit Habits -- there's knowledge of the past, of the pain, but there's determination to keep whacking away, even if you don't always know what you're whacking towards.

And that's why I freaked the fuck out at Man Man's show at the Heirloom Theatre last night. Dressed all in white (per usual), the band (a five-piece this time) charged through a raucous, sweaty set, full of primal energy and what I heard as a remarkable sense of resolve. That band was fighting. Not fighting amongst themselves -- I've seen them four or five times, and this was the tightest I've ever seen them -- but fighting collectively against all the badness and woe that informs their songs. I was with them. This is the strange, spastic, arty band that understands my pain and why I must fight against it. I freaked out harder than I've freaked out at a show since I was like 21, jumping like a maniac, shouting and singing along, sweating. I wasn't the only one. This was perhaps the most tribal show I've been to in a long time, band and audience vibing on the same wavelength, the same intensity. A good show is a moment of transcendence couched in the miles and miles of bullshit that is life itself, and this was one of those shows, x1000. If Man Man is playing anywhere remotely near you and you like their stuff, I implore you: Go, surrender yourself, give up on the idea of seeming cool, get in touch with your id. You'll thank yourself in the morning.

Man Man's Anti- Records labelmate Tim Fite was on the bill, too. There's a certain kind of surrender involved in his set, too, but it's something more overtly jubilant and childlike. The "band" was just Tim and a guy on a computer/backing vocals; the songs all used pre-recorded, full-band backing tracks. Sometimes Tim played an acoustic guitar, but it seemed to be mostly for effect. He had slide projections going on, illustrations that had a certain playful crudity not unlike those of Brad Neely and long video shots of Tim himself singing and playing guitar. He was big on sing-alongs and crowd participation; there were two variations on the old "head, shoulders, knees and toes" routine (one of which threw off the traditional order), and there was a song about burning down a chicken coop, a barn full of cows and a police station. While his set was as much performance art (his and the computer guy's blue-pants-white-shirt-and-tie garb were part of the whole weird visual effect) as it was music, there were a few really catchy pop songs in there. Tim's set was a show; you're not going to get the same effect by listening to the songs without the visual element of the crowd, the projections and Tim's almost preacherish stage presence.

Bottle Up and Go opened, and this was the first time I've seen them. The recordings I've heard don't, as far as I can tell, do them justice. They're a trio of electric slide guitar, drums and tenor sax, and they played on the floor, not the stage. Normally the idea of young guys (especially young guys who went to a prestigious university like Wesleyan) playing the blues makes me suspicious, but this was an unhinged and entirely rockin' version of blues and gospel. It felt modern and urban, but real and gritty and human. Shirtless and sweaty, they bent the idiom to fit their purposes and it did, in fact, make sense.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shows you should probably give a damn about.

Sunday, Oct. 12: Man Man at the Heirloom in Danbury, with their labelmate Tim Fite and post-Wesleyan/current Brooklyn duo Bottle Up and Go. Man Man got to me during a period of my life when it felt like everything was falling apart, because that's what their music is about. Read my preview of that show in the Fairfield Weekly here. I picked up a copy of ShowPaper at the Quiet Life/Citay/M.T. Bearington show, and its horoscope section told me Man Man and the Heirloom was my lucky show... so maybe you should come out.

Monday, Oct. 13: Fucked Up at the Heirloom. They're doing with hardcore exactly what should be done with hardcore. Read my briefer writeup of the show in the Fairfield Weekly here.

Wednesday, Oct. 15: The Elephant Six Holiday Surprise tour stops by The Space in Hamden. If the semiotics of the phrase "Elephant Six" means anything to you, you'll understand why this matters. Read my preview of the show in the New Haven Advocate here.

Friday, Oct. 17: The Urinals, Estrogen Highs and Guilty Faces at Cafe Nine in New Haven. The Urinals are the punk band that later morphed into 100 Flowers, and The Minutemen covered their song "Ack Ack Ack Ack" (The Minutemen cut off one "Ack"). With two of New Haven's great garage-punk bands also on the bill, I dunno how you can go wrong, or at least not if you're interested in feeling inspired to throw a chair through a window... ever. (Note: Please don't throw a chair through Cafe Nine's window. Wouldn't be cool. Wait 'til the afterparty, then please invite me to said afterparty.)

Sunday, Oct. 19: Gringo Star at BAR. Gringo Star is one of my absolute favorite retro-rock bands extant, and they incorporate elements of psych-pop, garage rock and early rock'n'roll into beautiful, exuberant pop songs. I've been listening to an advance copy of their upcoming album, All Y'all, all day. In my heart of hearts, I'd say it's perfect -- hooky, garagey, trenchant. They've been through New Haven a zillion times and this is absolutely one of those times you should see them again. Wait 'til the next issue of the Advocate -- you'll see something more in-depth about them there.

Tuesday, Oct. 21: The Griefs at Cafe Nine. This is, personally, one of my favorite garage bands working right now, led by a guy who used to play lead guitar in The Greenhornes. Their album Throwing a Tempo Tantrum is full of quick, catchy, post-British-Invasion rock songs. Their song "Whenever You're Around" was actually my MySpace profile song back in the spring... and strangely, I still feel the same way.

Friday, Oct. 24: I'm playing a birthday party, with or without my whole band. This one's personal.

See you around, or you're a sucker.

The way Saturday should be.

Good times. I rolled out of bed this morning, made some coffee, listened to NPR for a while... then popped The Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen album in for some reason. Greg Dulli's wails of depravity, degredation and lust were a bit much. "Is this what today is going to be like?" I thought. "Is this one of those days when I roll out of bed and begin listening to Gentlemen at my earliest convience?" Wasn't where I wanted to go, so I left the house and started walking down the street.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon Romeo & Cesare's 20th anniversary celebration... and also a number of my neighbors. Romeo & Cesare's is the market around the corner from my house, and while I normally consider stopping by there a bit of an extravagence (except when it comes to tomatoes -- they're selling taste-bud-popping local tomatoes right now for $0.99/lb), for this celebration thing they had a pretty awesome spread of eats (lots of vegetarian-friendly things, including baked penne, penne with mushrooms and some kind of dreamy cream sauce and ziti with whole olives and obviously fresh basil, oh my god) for free, plus cupcakes one could decorate on one's own. I ran into a couple of my neighbors there. Guy and I tried to decorate a couple cupcakes (yellowish, but very lemony) with this spray-on flavorless stuff and it was kind of comical. I actually hit up Romeo & Cesare's for two meals -- once on my way downtown and once back. Those two visits constituted all I ate all day, except for a slice of toast with peanut butter at breakfast. Yessssss.

Had an excellent summit with a recording engineer re: my band's next record, then hit up the Quiet Life/Citay/M.T. Bearington show at The People's Center. This was Quiet Life's last show in Connecticut before moving to California. "Last show" is duplicitous; I'm certain they'll be back, and they seem to be, too. Yet they're on their way out west. (Read my preview of the show from the New Haven Advocate here -- that should provide context if needed.)

I've seen Bearington a number of times, and if you've been following LaRuminator, you know how I feel about them. Tonight's set was as magical as always. Jay Bates was on the drumkit, and Jay Bates is a man who knows drum technique, particularly snare in relation to cymbals. I spoke with Matt Thomas, who's on the way with the second Bearington album -- the band's already playing some of the songs from that future record.

Citay is awesome. That is all. There's some kind of Southern/classic rock thing going on with them, but in a very smart and beautiful way. The songs are often quite simple in terms of song structure and chord progression -- they're apt to use just a few chords per song, and in sitting on the same chord for a prolonged period of time, these pronounced melodies bubble up (their instrumentation includes an acoustic guitar, two electric guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and two strong vocalists) and take over. People were whistling and singing their guitar lines after the band was done. That's always a good sign. They're from San Francisco and are on the Dead Oceans label. I feel very fortunate to have seen them, Vetiver and Suckers three years ago at Rudy's, before all those bands started blowing up, but Citay hasn't blown up quite enough for my own liking/sense of justice: Check out their stuff here. I recommend the song "Little Kingdom." That's one of the songs people were whistling afterwards.

Quiet Life were joined by their guitarist friend (whose name I don't remember) and Matt Wilson on pedal steel. They were slightly less unhinged than the last time I saw them, but they sounded great, full, relaxed. There was a lot of soloing. Their friend is a sick rock'n'roll/Americana guitarist, but their in-house solos have so much character that I wished I heard more from them. There were some people hanging out outside who didn't want to pay the cover but were watching/listening through the window, and while it feels slightly unfair that the crowd wasn't larger for Quiet Life, especially on such a special night, it still felt pretty special whoever was there. Lots of friends, good vibes. Wish they could've played for longer, but the People's Center has to close up by a certain time. Dunno about you, but I'm gonna miss these guys.