Lloyd Cole is the type of songwriter who incites travel, perhaps because he himself is nomadic and restless–a musical omnivore who’s traversed sparse folk, Velvet Underground-esque rock, electronica and dour jangle-pop (to name a few) during his three-decade career. And so when my husband and I found ourselves taking an unexpected Saturday trip to Ann Arbor, it felt oddly perfect to detour south and see Cole play a solo acoustic set in an unorthodox, BYOB space in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a mere two-and-change hours away. We hopped on the freeway, squinting through early-spring sunshine that made even the barren, browned farmland seem verdant. After a quick liquor store stop — pint of Guinness, $3.41 after tax–we reached the outskirts of Fort Wayne’s downtown. Our destination was an intrinsically Midwest mixed-use countercultural oasis: a sturdy building where a yoga studio, an alt-weekly and the marketing firm One Lucky Guitar share office space. Cole was to play in the latter company’s cozy, brick-walled back room, The B-Side, which was adorned by a velvet painting of headband-wearin’ Bruce Springsteen circa …
Outside Lands came and went last weekend, blowing in and out of the Golden Gate Park with the signature stomp, rock, and dazzle that’s it’s become equanimous with since Another Planet first unleashed it upon San Francisco six summers ago. This year, the dazzle was bigger and brighter than ever, the rock louder, the stomp harder, and widespread and whimsical art lavished the weekend with a warmth and brightness that superseded the grey skies.
High Sierra Music Festival is easily one of the happiest places on earth. People return year after year (after year). They bring their kids. They fill up inflatable pools. They make signs that light up and camp with dozens of friends and family who fly in from all over the country. They stay up all night and then all day and then all night again. It’s a hard party to deny, and High Sierra has cultivated a magic over the years that instantly binds people to the experience.
Alt-J (so named for the neato triangle you can make using your keyboard—∆) headlined a sold-out show at the Fillmore the other night. The band got together in 2007 at Leeds University, but it wasn’t until 2012 that they released their first full-length. They presumably spent those years injecting elements of every genre they’ve ever been influenced by into the eclectic tapestry of their sound. An Awesome Wave is a beautiful, incongruent piece of work. It reflects tedious discipline and a vast array of influences, a collection of disparate pieces presented in a bizarre cacophony of noise and layers, strung through with instrumental interludes, startling vocals, and pretty keys. Even when they reached deep to meld together such jarring oddities like dirty bass to melodic folk, it works. The album flows. It doesn’t sound hollow or overly ambitious. The shit is totally catchy, all 14 songs through.
Midge Ure has engendered quite a bit of goodwill over the years, thanks to a long musical career spanning myriad genres. In the ‘70s and ‘80s alone, the Scotland native did time in amiable rockers Slik, Irish hard rock legends Thin Lizzy, post-Sex Pistols project the Rich Kids, synthpop innovators Visage and New Romantic hitmakers Ultravox, while also developing a solid songwriting and solo career. He leveraged that goodwill into a well-received—and well-attended—show on January 16 at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom. (Although Ure was in Thin Lizzy for only a short amount of time, many in the audience apparently came because of that stint.) Backed by Los Angeles band Right The Stars, which also opened the show with its own set, Ure began his 16-song set with a rich rendition of 1991’s gospel-tinged “I See Hope In The Morning Light.” Throughout the soaring song, he had a beatific look on his face, which only increased after the song ended. “It’s nice to be back,” he said jovially, his Scottish accent readily apparent. “In fact, it’s nice …
Partying for three days straight in single digit temperatures? Who wouldn’t be at least a wee bit trepidatious about uncomfortable at best, unbearable at worst, conditions for a music festival? But for thousands of denizens who descend onto South Lake Tahoe during that ecstatic stretch of time around the New Year holiday, wintry weather is part of the allure. For the second year in a row, the AEG produced SnowGlobe Music Festival swept into a local community college campus for a three-day extravaganza, and the kids came out in droves to party it up through New Year’s Eve. I attended last year and had a great time; the weather was mild and the event very well-managed. But this year I was a bit more hesitant when the forecast prophesized what seemed to me an arctic apocalypse
Just before Christmas, the Motet lit up a little pocket of San Francisco, bringing a much-needed boost of merriment to a holiday season that felt to me more sad and stressful than festive, stamping on the waning days of a stale and stifling year their infectious thirst for celebration. With a cold rain falling outside, an eclectic group of show-goers young and old ditched their umbrellas to sweat it out and dance around to the Motet’s electric jazzy funk.
Only Leonard Cohen could transform a space as impersonal and corporately stamped as the HP Pavilion into a dazzling concert hall on a tired Wednesday night. Suburban yuppies filed in alongside the bohemian art elite (with every age and type of person in between) to take up cramped rows of seating that arc the hockey ring where the San Jose Sharks slam into walls and rocket pucks into a net. Only there was no reminder of anything brash or hostile. No suggestions of other events that have taken place in the same venue over the years. For when Leonard Cohen performs live, he completely consumes the space he’s playing to, painting it over with his refined baritone. And for those sitting rapt in the wings, it’s a hypnotic, completely transfixing experience. You scarcely remember to breathe.
Last week, Woods had the honor of being among the first bands to play San Francisco’s newest venue: The West Coast outpost of New Orleans’ legendary Preservation Jazz Hall. “The Chapel” is a well-named sister venue; the pitched ceilings and worn red walls obviously recall a place of prayer, and the building, at 19th and Valencia Street, was indeed a church and mortuary back around the start of World War 1. The Chapel has an accompanying bar that serves Cajun bites and booze and the venue itself has a great balcony that offers primo viewing for non-VIPs.
Straight out of Baltimore by way of Greenville, North Carolina, Future Islands brought their own brand of crazy to Bottom of the Hill on Tuesday night. The show, headlined by one of the Wham City collective’s flagship groups, was among the most entertaining live musical moments I’ve experienced in recent months, and I stood there, along with the rest of the sold-out crowd, unable to wipe the stupid smile off my face throughout their set, immersed in the intoxicating force of nature that is this band I’ve come to love very much. Though their newest record, On the Water, is a more brooding, forlorn affair than In Evening Air, the ecstatically dancey full-length debut that first garnered them scores of accolades upon its release in early 2010, none of the mania has gone missing from their live show. In other words, despite the somber subject matter of lost love and crushing heartbreak, when it comes to delivering the goods live, Future Islands proved on Tuesday night to be harnessing even more of that deranged catharsis …