I know it's only the most obvious thing ever, but when you're totally wasted and this comes on, you know you're going to lose your shit (so what if maybe I did last night?). Ray Parker, Jr. for the weekend win.
Sufjan Stevens' new album, The Age of Adz, is a big, complicated, ambitious, conceptual album—even by his (partially) established "50 States" standards. Luckily, last night at the Paramount, he was happy to explain.
"These new songs are songs of heartache, heart sickness, disease, and mental illness, all rendered through the lens of apocalypse, the end of the world. Because there's no healthier way to view love-sickness than through the myths and standardizations of the end of the world. I know it's a little dramatic...but it pays the bills."
Later, Stevens told the audience about folk artist Royal Robertson, whose work provided inspiration, imagery, and lyrical themes for Adz. He told the crowd that Robertson's poster paintings derived from dreams, visions, visitations from angels, and depicted the end of the world, massive storms, hurricanes, time travel, space travel, myths (especially Norse myths) mixed with comic book characters and sci-fi movies. He said they also came from Robertson's schizophrenia, at which much of the audience fucking laughed, like schizophrenia is a hilarious joke. (To be fair to the audience: this was clearly a crowd of cultish Sufjan superfans; if they thought their hero was making a joke, they would want to laugh loud enough for him to hear, even if they didn't understand what was supposed to be funny. So maybe that was what was happening here. But seriously, guys, what the hell?) I for one wouldn't have minded hearing a little about how one differentiates mental illness from religious experience, but that's just me.
Stevens went on to talk about how, when preparing to write this album, he'd been experimenting with synthesizers and effects pedals and felt like he was slipping into a kind of madness, which he compared to Robertson's madness, only Robertson's was productive, whereas Stevens' at the time was not. "Of course, he had mental illness, and I don't. He lived in rural Louisiana; I live in New York City, where there's lots of distractions. He was a Southern black man; I'm a white Yankee. Really, we have nothing in common." So why use him, Stevens asked, before giving the answer to why any relatively privileged white artist borrows from poor old black artists: because it seemed "cool." Still, Stevens seems to approach Robertson with the same genuine care and depth of interest that he does all his subjects, from the BQE to John Wayne Gacy, and he ended his speech about Robertson like it was a PSA, noting that not many people know about the outsider artist, but hoping that maybe now this audience knows about him and they'll go check him out. "He doesn't even have a website!"
That out of the way, how was the show? Fantastic. Stevens played with a 10-piece band, including two drummers, two keyboardists on baby upright pianos, guitar, bass, trombone, two girls singing backup vocals and doing synchronized dance routines along with one other dedicated dancer. Stevens played banjo and guitars and synthesizer; he sang and busted a few cute little dance moves of his own—some popping, some robot, some boy band style slides and hip swivels. (It has been mentioned somewhere that Stevens is a ridiculously bright-eyed and attractive man, yes? We needn't belabor this point? Good.) Leading up to this tour, Stevens talked in interviews about not knowing how the band would recreate the electronics-heavy songs of Adz live, but they did it simply enough, with various band members rotating to synth stations for certain songs and with at least one of the drummers' acoustic kits augmented with an electronic drum pad.
They were dressed up maybe a little more than usual for Halloween (Stevens joked that they were having a costume contest with $100 at stake), with Stevens wearing angel wings, one drummer sporting a Nixon mask, one guitarist dressed as a clown, the backup singer/dancers in silver lame, and with feather boas, tinfoil hats, and glowstick necklaces/bracelets all around. They played in front of a video screen and occasionally behind a scrim, onto which were projected animations inspired by Robertson's work (planets, hand drawn spaceships), stop-motion video of Stevens and crew busting dance moves against a white wall, and abstract imagery varying from star-bursts of color to Tron-like geometric lines. For "Vesuvius," which Stevens introduced with a story about biking around Crater Lake and being impressed with the feeling of "wanting to throw yourself in" at natural thresholds such as Mt. St. Helens or Niagra Falls, the scrim came back down and abstract orange and red flames licked up and gradually engulfed the band.
The band's set was pretty much the new album, plus "Seven Swans," "Chicago," and an encore; they switched up the sequencing, but things still climaxed with the 25-minute long "Impossible Soul," the album's "magnum opus of love and madness," as Stevens described it, adding that the song's distinct sections cycled through many psycho-therapeutic phases, only with the audience as therapist and the band charging us. For this song, an upside-down diamond shaped screen descended behind Stevens and a strobing, horizontal-hold pattern was projected onto it while Stevens belted out Auto-tuned R.Kelly-caliber R&B-isms (only without all that moral messiness) and danced in duet with his girls—"boy, we can do much more together/it's not so impossible," and "it's a long life/only one last chance/couldn't get much better/do you wanna dance?"
That "do you wanna dance," by the way, when the chord changes, reaching up for high hopeful note, is maybe the most optimistic moment in music I've heard all year. That optimism—even in the face of some serious sad-sack subject matter—is a big part of Stevens' appeal, beyond merely his insane musical and compositional chops. Maybe it's the kind of optimism that only someone who really believes in salvation can seriously offer up. In the next song, "Chicago"—a song that, at least as of last night, still gives me shivers—when Stevens sings "I made a lot of mistakes," it's not wallowing or self-pity, it's an absolution: we all fuck up; everything passes; everything is forgiven. I think we'd all like to believe that.
(Showbox at the Market) Mux Mool was a highlight of last month's Decibel Festival for many folks. Unfortunately for many more folks (including me) who had hoped to see the Minnesota-born, Brooklyn-based electronic artist—and who had mapped out their stuffed Decibel itineraries down to the last minute—Mux Mool unexpectedly switched set times with Ghostly International labelmate Gold Panda. GAH!!! (Gold Panda was fine, though.) If Mux Mool's recorded output is any indication, I missed a set of gritty, knocking drum samples, thinned-out synths, the occasional eight-bit video-game riff, and a lot of mellow, moody head-nodding material. He's well worth a second attempt to see live. Pennsylvania outfit Lotus have roots in the jam-band world and create electronically accented instrumentals that tend toward the pretty and downtempo, with occasional traces of dub or jazz. ERIC GRANDY
Best Coast, Sonny & the Sunsets, the Calligraphers
(Neumos) L.A. trio Best Coast have been coaxing swoons and kudos from the public and press for their straight-ahead, sub-three-minute, fuzz-pop charmers. Their 2010 debut full-length, Crazy for You, evokes simpler, more innocent times ("When I'm with you, I have fun," etc.), mainly thanks to vocalist Bethany Cosentino's dulcet tones and forthright delivery. Best Coast's songs make for high-quality sonic comfort food—their melodies shrouded in a haloed, alluring haze and their juicy hooks implanting themselves in your gray matter in a matter of seconds (plus, Cosentino really knows her way around an extended, undulating "ooohhhh"). Ultimately, Best Coast sound like Neko Case if she were 10 years younger and a SoCal beach bum. Bay Area quartet Sonny & the Sunsets complement Best Coast's neo-naive retro-pop gestures; they're just as genially tuneful, but boast less fuzz and haze. DAVE SEGAL
(Showbox Sodo) With a backstory that makes M.I.A. look like a debutante by (odious) comparison, K'naan is the Somalia-born, Ontario-bred rapper whose music twists African sounds into deeply hooky hiphop. The fucked-up state of the world is a natural and perennial lyrical subject, but the music is never less than joyous, with the dark shit presented mostly as stuff to be overcome, which K'naan does with hard-earned wit and style. Both of his records—2005's The Dusty Foot Philosopher and 2009's Troubadour—will make your life tangibly better. Tonight, K'naan brings his crowd-pleasing, world-spanning anthems to the stage of the Showbox Sodo. DAVID SCHMADER
(Moore) My mind connects the Japanese pop legend Ryuichi Sakamoto with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. What they have in common is how their music expressed the globalization spirit in the '80s. All three produced albums that drew from various cultures around the world—sub-Saharan Africa, South America, the Arab world, and so on. This kind of pop captured the utopian mood of the '80s, a moment that experienced the increased democratization of jet travel and transnational communication technologies. Sakamoto's pop was like making an affordable long-distance call or flying economy class from one part of the world to the next. CHARLES MUDEDE
Wild Orchid Children, Past Lives, Triumph of Lethargy, Strong Killings
(Black Lodge) This bill is a quadra-power volcano of Frankenstein-monster-forming rock. At midnight, it becomes Halloween, and the bands will unite onstage to perform a psych-rock version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." It will be 45 minutes long, and you will froth forth. Thomas Hunter will become the monster's hands, soloing like a pack of wolves howling from the hills at freshly smelled flesh. Jordan Blilie will scream through the monster's mouth with possessed precision. Spencer Moody will be the monster's brain, changing it into a being that dispenses butterscotch candy to children. Nate Mooter will be the heart. Mark Gajadhar will be the heavy feet, stomping away at all evil non—butterscotch lovers. (What Gajadhar does to the drums is inhuman—drum murder.) Never before has a Frankenstein monster spread so much love, rock, and butterscotch across the land. TRENT MOORMAN
by Dave Segal
on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 4:22 PM
Today is guitarist Peter Green's 64th birthday, which gives me an excuse to post a song from the ex-John Mayall's Bluesbreakers/Fleetwood Mac guitarist's 1970 solo LP, The End of the Game, which is a serious burner. Track it down.
by Dave Segal
on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM
Here's an event that didn't make The Stranger's list of Halloween parties: Local dance-music collective Shameless is partnering with Youngstown in West Seattle Sat. Oct. 30 to present Hive-Mind's 16th annual Halloween party. In addition to the lineup of DJs and live performers (see below), Hive-Mind has enlisted aerialists, jugglers, and stilt walkers to keep you entertained. 100 percent of the profits will go to Room to Read and Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. You can find more information on the event's Facebook page.
Maybe it's not a Halloween jam in that H-ween is not mentioned by name, but it's spooky and bad-ass enough, so stick it. Some of you are probably aware that after releasing this single, Macabre would change their name to Pentagram, who are usually credited with pioneering the "doom" sub-genre in the 80's.
Oddly enough, it's not in doom circles that this song is the most well known. "Be Forwarned" has appeared in several compilations of 60's garage rock including a Pebbles box set and a volume of the Acid Dreams series. Its inclusion may seem somewhat erroneous given the timeline, but sonically it fits right in with some of the darker psych tracks circa '68 or so. So, uh, if you've been looking for the missing link between Count Five and Sunn O))), here you go.
Pentagram later re-recorded and released a doom version of this song (cover art may be slightly NSFW) in 1994. It's cool up until the chorus. If you ask me, they got it right the first time.
OK off top, I have no problem with the new Southern dance meme somehow based, although very loosely, on Weekend At Bernies..EXCEPT! Technically, if we're talking about walking like a reanimated corpse—I think that's what they're doing, honestly I don't see a consistent vision with this dance yet—then we are talking about WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S 2, when the hilarious and remarkably well-preserved party corpse Bernie Lomax was reanimated by scary voodoo negroes! I think the creator of this dance could've done his homework a little more, maybe spelled the guy's fucking name right, maybe even thrown in some rhymes referencing voodoo, Jonathan Silverman, or Andrew McCarthy. Or, whatever; am I nitpicking? Fuck it. It's the weekend, so move it like Berney.
Vandroid is an offbeat project that just popped up on my radar, and is casting out some seriously Halloween-ready vibes. In short, it appears to be a largescale concept album involving some of the day’s hotter disco and club acts (Fred Falke, et al). The phony trailer—for the titular “long-lost” Grindhouse flick—is pretty fun, and can be viewed at the Vandroid site (flash required).
So far, the only actual music to emerge in relation to the project is a fill-larded, John-Carpenter-on-speed Van She Tech remix of the cut “Master and Slave.” Here’s some excerpts from the enigmatic Vandroid press release:
“In a windowless warehouse building on the dreary outskirts of town, an unknown purveyor of grind-house cinema was beginning principal photography on what would be it’s last film ever. That summer, in that same warehouse, a young audio engineer named Fujiyama was contracted to record a visionary album as a companion piece to the film using a preproduction test unit of the latest synthesising [sic] equipment from Sansui in Osaka…
“Presumed lost forever, the visionary unfinished concept album was found in a sealed box in the back of the storage locker and now this epic soundtrack from this unreleased film is about to be released over 25 years after it’s[sic] creation.”
Los Angeles cassette-only imprint Living Tapes is responsible, ironically, for some truly eerie, “undead” sounds. Bands who’ve put out material via Living Tapes include downbeat Aukland darkwavers Mellow Grave, Afghani genre forerunners Mater Suspiria Vision (part of the Trianglegate 2010 conspiracy), unsettling minimal synth-wave act Neud Photo, singer-songwriter Black Church (who has a nominally black metal aesthetic but decidedly un-metal music), Zombelle, Crypt Thing, and awesome NIN-esque Korean group Videograve. The latter has a song called “Christine,” that appears to reference (and sample) known witch Christine O’Donnell. If that’s not holiday-appropriate, I dunno what is. (It should be mentioned that Living Tapes also have stuff out by less-spooky folks like Foot Village).
PS Confidential to Ween fans: I’m still enjoying my pun, so you’re gonna have to hang with my silly header graphic until Sunday, or until I run out of “festive” blog posts, but at no point will I start talking about Ween the Band. Sorry.
Every single Halloween party happening in the city is listed in this week's paper on page 65. But the online version (posted right here) has just updated with even more options!
Sun 10/31 THRILLER PARTY AT PLUM BISTRO Featuring DJ T Top, Prince vs. Michael, food, and drink specials. Plum Bistro, 1429 12th Ave, 838-5333, 10 pm, free.
Sat-Sun 10/30-31 FIRST ANNUAL BIG MARIO'S HALLOWEEN PARTY AND LOOKALIKE CONTEST "Dress up as Big Mario and win big prizes" including a $250 tab at Mario's. That's a lot of pizza. Big Mario's, 1009 E Pike St, 922-3875, free.
Sat 10/30 PROCESSION OF LOST SOULS COSTUME PARADE AND CONTEST Show of your costume in a parade down Broadway! It starts at 7 pm at SCCC Plaza at Broadway and Pine and will head north to Republican Street. SCCC Plaza, Broadway and Pike, all ages, free more info here.
Click here to see 'em all! And if you know of even more things to do, leave the information in the comments. Hooray for choices! Hooray for Halloween! Hooray for America!