Sorry, things were really mixed up earlier this week and I didn't get you your MP3 Monday. That means you get a special Wendesday treat, though!
The track this week comes from The Story Changes, a band that's not exactly from Pittsburgh, but close enough (Akron). They play here now and then, and work with I Am Shark, who I profiled a couple months back.
The track that the two-piece provided: Tidal Wave, from their new This Is Your Moment EP. Check it!
To download MP3, right-click link and choose "save link as" or "download linked file as."
Lots of things to get to today. First, let's talk about not-pop-music stuff. Yesterday, Chatham Baroque announced the winners of their first-ever new works competition -- three composers who will work with the group throughout the next year, preparing new works to premiere in fall, 2012.
The panel -- the group's three principals, plus two outside experts -- examined 35 applications and chose three very different composers: Moon Yung Ha, of New York City; Matt McBane, who splits time between New York and California; and Lansing McLoskey, of Miami.
Working with contemporary composers is new for the trio because they work with Baroque music, obviously, and play period instruments -- viola da gamba, Baroque violin, Baroque guitar, theorbo – that generally aren't written for today. They chose the three composers believing that they will write interesting works within the contemporary music idiom that still take advantage of the instruments' inherent musical qualities. (They specified that they don't want contemporary composers simply trying to re-create Baroque music.)
The ensemble, which recently released its latest album, Alla Luce: Music of Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, begins its 2011-2012 season the weekend of Oct. 8 with Friendly Rivals, a Baroque program that will feature guests Anna Marsh (dulcian, a kind of proto-basson) and Stephen Etcher (cornetto, an instrument that Chatham Baroque's Scott Pauley described as a "cross between a trumpet and a recorder").
Speaking of big announcements, we now know the Warhol Sound Series schedule for the fall, so let's get down to that:
Sept. 15: Olivia Tremor Control at New Hazlett Theater. $12-15. 8 p.m.
Sept. 27: NewVillager at Warhol Museum. $12-15. 8 p.m.
Oct. 8: Starlicker at Warhol Museum. $12-15. 8 p.m.
Oct. 26: Bassekou Kouyate at Carnegie Lecture Hall, Oakland. $12-15. 8 p.m.
Nov. 2: Winged Victory for the Sullen at Carnegie Museum Sculpture Hall, Oakland. $12-15. 8 p.m
Nov. 12: Dan Zanes & Friends at Carnegie Lecture Hall, Oakland. $20-22; $5/10 for kids. 4 p.m.
Nov. 21: Ra Ra Riot at Carnegie Lecture Hall, Oakland. $12-15. 8 p.m.
(Nellie McKay was originally scheduled to appear as well, but had to cancel due to another engagement.)
And, last but certainly not least, more announcements from the VIA camp, which I think I thought had already been announced but I guess they weren't. The current schedule looks like:
Oct. 5: Trans Am, Kingdom, Pure Hype. Brillobox. (Kickoff party.
Oct. 6: Battles, Four Tet, Falty DL, Wolf Eyes, Walls. Rex Theater.
Oct. 7: Toy Selectah, Light Asylum, Tim Sweeney, Extreme Animals, Pink Skull, Blondes, Protect-U. 6022 Broad Street Mall.
Oct. 8: Underground Resistance, Zombi, Austra, Laurel Halo, Ford Lopatin, Raw Blow, Centipede Eest, Sutekh, Donato Dozzy, Nuel.
Is that enough information for you?!?!?
Here's a less abridged version of our interview with Billy Gibbons, a prompt and polite e-mail correspondent!
A reporter asked you in 1986, "does touring get old?" and you said, "You should see it from our side. Ain't nothin' old." Is that still true?
We'll stand by that statement, especially in light of recent experience where we're seeing three generations of fans out there. It's cool with us and the audience is telling us most emphatically that it's cool with them. Win/Win!
ZZ Top's new, Rick Rubin- produced record comes out this fall. You said of Rubin, "he pushes the artists to spend more time reaching down deeper than they normally would."
It's more like he provides another perspective to the process and provides an outside view of the sound ... does it motivate one to move and groove. He kind of looks like he belongs with us so he's a natural within the circle. The results are worthwhile.
You've had some on-screen spots throughout the years, most recently on Bones, in which you play a very Billy Gibbons-like character. Do you ever wish for a role where you play someone who isn't a rocker?
Not sure about taking on a role of someone who doesn't play guitar. Then again, I do a fairly decent "lost soul" and "religious nut" along with your half-crazed, street corner "eye-on-the-inside". There's a wide range of "weird" available for the taking.
You're an aficionado of both cars and guitars. Any other hobbies you'd like to explore if you had the time?
African art is a special passion as, of course, is Mexican cuisine, both "haute" and "bajo."
What bands/records do you have in heavy rotation right now?
"Brothers" by The Black Keys, "Confederate Buddha" by Jimbo Mathus, "Hideaway" by Freddy King, "Mustang Ranch" by Black Joe Louis & The Honeybears,
Four decades is a long time to be in a band with the same two guys. Have disagreements ever turned to fisticuffs? The angst gets the aim toward 6 strings and 6 skins. After all, ZZ's a rock band on the move around the world constantly. Ain't no time for sidetrackin'.
All day Saturday the 16th at First Niagara Pavilion you could see a growing swarm of people; shirtless guys and bikini-clad girls traversed the grounds of the hilly terrain, treating Identity Festival like the rave that it wanted to be. While there was no poi in sight, there were plenty of hula hoops, glow sticks, and t-shirts that read "Dub to fuckstep" and "Sex, Drugs & Dubstep," a new generation's screen-printed rock 'n' roll insouciance.
The crowd seemed to be pretty thin until the sun went down, and even into the evening when Kaskade took the main stage, the sea of people was smaller than what the headliner is most likely used to.
The musical highlight of the fest was Berlin-based techno duo Modeselektor, comprised of Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert. They were slotted early, at a time in the day when only the die-hards and people who have actually heard of them were present in the amphitheater. The pit area in front of the stage was loosely filled with dancers and the guys of Modeselektor entertained them with the showmanship of rock star-cum-comedians. Standing behind a table and turning knobs didn't stifle their charisma in the slightest. They made techno music come to life by playing with urgency and whimsy and boatloads of cartoonish inflection. At one point Szary stepped out from behind the livePA setup and began lip-synching to Bjork's "Dull Flame of Desire." He passed the mic to Bronsert for Antony Hagerty's part and performed a strip tease in his half-zipped jumpsuit. Bottles were popped, the crowd was drenched in champagne and when Modeselektor's set ended, it felt all too short.
Other musical highlights came from electronic music vets Crystal Method and DJ Shadow. Both acts performed at the Rockstar/Dim Mak stage and were major draws for those attendees who were born before 1990. Crystal Method pummeled the high-energy crowd with hard hitting rock-electro, mixing their sounds of yore with recognizable samples that made for a set that bridged the age gap in their audience. DJ Shadow's set was hip hop-stained drum and bass. He played classics like "Entroducing" and moved into quilts of popular rap with Lil' Wayne samples woven into the rhythm of techstep.
In terms of musical selection, Identity did well to represent major players in dubstep, with the likes of Skrillex and Rusko; house, with Kaskade and Steve Lawler; and the seminal producers who have been around for over a decade, with Crystal Method and DJ Shadow. However, the bill lacked depth with their inability to include more of the creative unknowns like Modeselektor. We'll ignore the paltry attendance -- Pittsburgh is not considered to be a major market by Live Nation -- but if they want the interest and attendance to grow and the crowd to be the kind of people who come back for more, they'll have to include more boundary-pushing musicians.
The festival itself was fun, there's no denying that, but for a festival to keeping on going year after year, it needs to offer attendees something new. Festivals are not simply for dramatically staged, watered-down club music; they should be spaces for musical discovery, and Identity mostly just offered more of the same.
In today's print edition, you'll find an abridged version of my interview with Andy Bean of The Two Man Gentlemen Band. Since the Internet is endless, I'm giving you a look at the longer version, here! They play Wed., Aug. 24 at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville; show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $8 in advance, $10 at the door.
Let's start with the obvious question: Why only two of you?
You know, we started off – we were trying to put more of a rock band together, this was around 2002, we were just kids, and we couldn't really find a drummer. So we decided to start just playing, the two of us, and we always loved old-fashioned swing music, and old-time country and rockabilly, so we said if we're gonna be doing the two-man thing, that sounds better than us trying to be a two-man rock band.
We went out kind of on a lark and started playing in Central Park, and people started throwing money at us! So we kept going out there, then we decided to take it on the road, and it all happened kind of naturally. And then when we went to choose a band name, we were so proud of our duo-ness that we chose "The Two Man Gentlemen Band." So, we had no choice but to stay a duo forever.
Then it's ironic if anything changes.
Yes -- we've done some shows where we had guests or a drummer or something, and it just blows people's minds. They can't wrap their heads around a three-person Two Man Gentlemen Band.
And I guess that also means you have to remain gentlemen.
Well, technically we just have to remain a gentleman band. Off-stage, separately, we can behave however we like.
So you were already kind of interested in old-timey music, but it sounds like to an extent, your circumstances led you to the kind of music you play.
Yeah. It was a few years ago, and I feel like starting out, at that point, we could have gone in any direction. But we have catholic musical tastes -- "catholic" meaning "universal" in this case, not church music -- but once we started doing this, I'm glad we did, because it turned out to be our true musical love, for both of us. I don't think I would ever want to be in any other kind of band, besides an old-fashioned swing band. And we've both gotten deeper -- five, six, seven years ago, we both listened to more widely varied music. Now, me, certainly, I just listen to the old stuff, sort of obsessively.
One of the things that seems to come up often in reviews of your shows is the idea that people, especially critics, are wary of your band -- they think it might be a novelty act, might be hokey, might not be good. Then their minds are often changed after they see you. Do you worry about people's preconceptions about your type of music?
It's funny, because, since it's the kind of music we love -- and we're still listening to it on CDs, and in MP3 form -- it seems modern to us. So we forget that it's not normal for musicians to be incredibly well versed in 1920s and '30s styles. So I forget that most people look at us and think that we're old-fashioned and throwback. Because from our perspective, we're taking something older as a basis, and writing new stuff around it. For us it's no different from a folk singer basing their music on The Beatles or Bob Dylan. That stuff's 40 years old; our stuff is just 80 years old. For us – it's weird, once you're in the scene that we're in, there are people who are far more orthodox, especially in traditional jazz bands, about recreating this old thing, and they wear strict period clothing all that. Us, we're just going off this thing that we love, that happens to be 80 years old, and we're writing stuff in that style just because that's what we know how to play. Our suits are not strictly vintage, and certainly our lyrics and such are not strictly vintage either.
So you occupy that space in between a couple of different communities or scenes.
Yeah. Which is why we don't fit flawlessly into any one. Which is an advantage and a disadvantage. But we just gotta do what we do. It's always funny to me when – I get surprised that it's not normal for people to see this 90-year-old style of music.
Do you get a satisfaction from seeing people who think they're going to hate your music, then change their minds and think it's awesome?
Yeah. Our fan base is not any particular type of person. We get a lot of people who, maybe their unifying factor is that they were surprised that they like us. And then we get the vintage enthusiasts too. One of the things that makes me happiest is when people hear our original songs and that makes them go back and look at old Louis Armstrong or Jelly Roll Morton music or something like that. That's very fulfilling.
You have a couple songs about U.S. presidents. Is that an ongoing project, or did that just happen?
It was a thing that just happened. Early in our songwriting career, we leaned toward historical numbers, and we've definitely gotten that out of our system. Because we've concluded that nobody, especially us, wants to hear any songs that are vaguely educational. But, you know, a song about William Howard Taft, or Franklin Pierce – one, those are easy rhymes, and two, you know – "Taft" rhymes with "fat," and he was a big fat guy, and "Pierce" rhymes with "beers," and he was a notorious drunk. So, those songs sort of wrote themselves, we like to say. It's certainly not a project – I don't think anybody wants to hear a song about Grover Cleveland or something like that. Even though, it's funny, people have requested that we write a full album of them. But no. Sorry. That's not our mission. We'd much prefer to write songs about, you know, "I like to party with girls," or something.
I know you've been in Pittsburgh a couple times recently; you tour pretty hard. How many shows do you play a year?
I think for the past three or four years, we've been doing about 175 days a year, which is almost half the year, that's a good clip. Luckily for us, in towns like Pittsburgh and elsewhere, we get a nice reliable, enthusiastic turnout, so I don't think we need to be playing 175 shows a year for the next few years. Something like 75 to 100, that seems more humane. But Pittsburgh is one of our favorite places.
Right, you played Club Café earlier this year?
Yeah, and the past couple of years we've hit Howlers a lot. We're really excited to play the Thunderbird, we heard it's a nice room. It's funny because we were based in New York for a long time, and for years, our Pittsburgh show was either the first show of a tour or the last show. So people either got us rusty and after an eight-hour drive, on the first show of a tour, or completely burnt out from the road on the last show. But this time, we're doing a couple of shows on the way out, so we'll be neither exhausted nor rusty. Make that the headline: "Didn't like The Two Man Gentlemen Band last time you saw them? Give 'em another shot!"
You guys played some dates on the Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson tour?
In 2009, yeah. It was magical. It's still not entirely clear to me how we got 'em, but we got 'em! I read recently that even if it's just for a night or a few nights, Bob Dylan doesn't allow anybody on the bill that he doesn't personally approve of. So I guess in some amount, Bob Dylan has personally approved of us.
How did the rest of the crowd like you?
It was great – the people who go see Bob Dylan shows now, I think, are appreciators of American music. Especially now that he's got that radio show where he plays a lot of Western swing and all. So people who like him now in his later years I think are appreciative. They were very receptive. And Willie Nelson was on the bill, and when we played our song "Me, I Get High on Reefer," people just went bananas.
Obviously, given the nature of the songs, and the instrumentation, everything about your band translates well in a live environment. How do you approach recording?
It's actually a struggle for us to find out exactly how to do it. I think our last record, ¡Dos Amigos, Una Fiesta!, was the best job we've done thus far. We had songs ready, they were prepared, we showed up and just set up some microphones and the record was done in two days. And also, getting even more primitive, we have a 7-inch vinyl record coming in September; for that one, we got a 1940s RCA microphone and we gathered around that, right to a tape machine and that was it. And I think that captured what we're going for pretty well. We seem to be moving toward more primitive, how they used to record back then. The short answer is, I like how records sounded back then, and it's not gimmicky or kitschy to try to make a record that sounds like records you like.
OK, it wasn't planned this way, but it worked out perfectly: On this drizzly, gray, relatively cool day, I've got a fall-weather MP3 for you. It comes from Balloon Ride Fantasy, a duo whose debut album, Monocle City, I reviewed a couple months back. They were kind enough to supply the title track from the album -- download it below and mope about the rain! "Monocle City"
Yesterday I prattled on a bit about situations in which Club Café is a less-than-perfect venue. Today, let's look at the flip side of that argument. There are times, reader, when Club Café is perfect for the show that's taking place there. Like last night, for instance.
Last night's show was opened up by Nightly Standard, a local loungey jazz-soul outfit that rose from the ashes of The Metropolitans, a band that played around town a good bit a few years back. They were a good fit for the show, and played all originals, which is pretty unique for a band that plays jazz.
Unfortunately, they were drummerless for this show -- apparently just a temporary setback -- but they kept it together well. Some of the arrangements seemed like they would be heavily dependent on the drums to pin down the backbone of the song, but they went fine without. Highlight: The immensely talented bass player. Something to work on: I know it seems like a dumb thing to pick on, but the band's look didn't really gel -- and when you're dealing with a lounge-type act, I think that's something that's important. It's one of the cues we pick up on. The lead singer looked great, and had a great stage presence; the rest of the band was dressed in different degrees of business-casual -- not totally well-dressed and snazzy, but also not deliberately underdressed. Just sayin'.
The same could not be said for Lucy Woodward and her backup duo, which consisted of Michael League and Bill Laurance: They looked and sounded impeccable. While it's a small combo, the band rolled deep with instrumentation: Two stand-up basses (was one really just a backup?!), a guitar, a baritone guitar, a keyboard and an accordion. League and Laurance opened the set with an instrumental number to warm up the stage and, honestly, they could've played an entire set on their own and I wouldn't have minded.
But the main attraction was, of course, the New York-raised and L.A.-based Woodward, an energetic mix of sultry chanteuse and fun, friendly, impish girl. She belted out a set of her originals ("Babies," about, er, wanting to have babies, basically; "Ragdoll," about, er, wanting to have rough sex, basically) and covers of standards (a smoking, minimalist rendition of Nina Simone's "Be My Husband," for example).
Woodward entertained with between-songs banter, introduced her band members five or six times each, and was generally a total charmer; she took a few funny jabs at her one-time label, Atlantic, which dropped her when its president was fired.
It's hard, I think, to work in a musical idiom that's regarded as old news, and still make it feel fresh. You often end up either missing the mark, or coming off as a novelty act. To hit the mark is rare and beautiful, and often just as exciting to watch as something completely musically novel. Lucy and her band hit the mark hard.
(Big ups to photographriend Brian for the photos.)
Tuesday is never a good night for shows. The gloomy cloud of Wednesday morn shuts in those who normally come out to dance and rage. Being that it was one of those odious weekdays, the amount of people at Belvedere's on July 26, for the final VIA Presents show of the season was impressive -- at least for the middle of the show, which was the best part anyway.
Opened up by seasoned VIA vet Majeure (A.E. Paterra) some interlude DJing by Cutups (Geoff Maddock) accompanied visually by VJ Casey Hallas, the evening moved into industrial overdrive with Chi-town native Gatekeeper, who no doubt stole the show. The duo's visuals alone were so spastic and intense that the crowd, at it's thickest during their slot, got bored with anything that followed. Gatekeeper was lightening and thunder, skulls and gravestones, the darkest of dark electronic body music that could make your bones rattle and your blood curl in a pleasurable semi-seizure. One could brush off Gatekeeper's stellar display of darkness as a result of the massive four-cornered sound system, but it definitely takes two to tango.
Teengirl Fantasy (Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss) offered up art-school edginess with quirky little hints of irony. Their set was very dream like, pop-infused, energetic and fun. Coming off of the darkness of Gatekeeper, they were a solid sonic transition into Pictureplane's (Travis Egedy) 90's influenced electro-noise music. The tunes and mixing were interesting, but not really enough to keep people from thinking about waking up for work the next morning. Props to him for never losing steam. There's no arguing that the man has got stage presence and isn't afraid to take risks.
Looking ahead for VIA, they'll be announcing another juicy list of artists who will be here in October for the real-deal big VIA Music & New Media Festival. Currently the lineup offers such bucket list artists as Four Tet, FaltyDL, Kingdom and Toy Selectah. For more info on those artists, ticket prices and volunteering opportunities go here: http://via-pgh.com/