Oh Beck. You never stop amazing me. The last time you were in New York City (for a Celebrate Brooklyn show at Prospect Park Bandshell last summer) you delighted the crowd with surprise covers like Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”. The “last time [you] performed in New York City proper”, as you referred to Manhattan on Monday night, was way back in 2008 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where you had marionettes take center stage. Now, for the first of two nights of shows in New York City, this one at Hammerstein Ballroom, then last night’s at Central Park Summerstage, you showed that you could put on a traditional rock show and still make it your own in a way that only Beck could.
With his latest album Morning Phase being a somber one, it’s impossible for an audience to know what to expect when headed out to a Back show. Would we get sad, introspective Beck, playing mostly acoustic numbers? Would we get funny, funky Beck, circa mid-late ’90s? Would we get high-energy, high-speed Beck, circa mid-late 2000s? The answer came from Beck really early in the night, when he declared after the first song (“The Golden Age”), “We’re gonna start it out slow. Then we’re gonna build it up. And we’re possibly gonna get a little rowdy.” We were getting it all, something for every Beck fan, and he absolutely delivered.
First came slow. After The Golden Age came eight more songs where the most upbeat was the last of the bunch, the pretty downbeat “Blue Moon“. Every one these nine songs were either from Morning Phase or the album to which it is a companion, 2002’s Sea Change. There was very little in the way of visual accompaniment for this portion of the show and very little dancing as well. But it was beautiful, especially when Beck slowed things down to an almost impossible degree on “Waves”. Hearing him croon the word “isolation” with a lone spotlight on him center stage brought up (perhaps not unintentionally) thoughts of Ian Curtis; the performance was simply breathtaking.
After Blue Moon there was a brief pause, denoting that Act II was about to begin. It also gave the audience a chance to give an extra-long applause for Blue Moon, which was an extraordinary, the perfect cap to part 1 of the show. Here’s where Beck lied – he didn’t “build it up.” He exploded. The first song of part 2 was a hellacious rendition of “Devil’s Haircut”. Already a loud and aggressive song, this was what I would call a Nine Inch Nails version. A rapidly flashing red and white digital display – the first real visuals of the night – added to the industrial nature of the song. Beck had gone from 0 to 60 in one song. Fasten your safety belts and keep your hands inside the car at all times.
“Black Tambourine” and “Soul of a Man” were good follow-ups, popular but not Beck’s biggest hits, yet the right style to keep the momentum from Devil’s Haircut going. The show was then allowed to breathe a little bit as Beck went into his pop mode (Beck’s version of pop still wildly entertaining). A trio of fan favorites were played, starting with “The New Pollution”, then “Loser” followed by “Hell Yes”. Each song was modified from it’s album version to be louder, more guitar heavy, more bass heavy, just more everything. The New Pollution especially was, like Devil’s Haircut, almost an entirely different song in its loudness. The crowd and the band were in full party mode.
It seemed to me that this was a bit of a turning point. Whereas part 1 was beautiful and exquisite, and part 2 to this point had been upbeat and loud by design, Beck and his band (who more than once he said was his favorite band to work with) entered phase 3 in a great mood, ready to go off script. Everyone was having fun up there; you could tell he knew the show was going really well. “Get Real Paid”, which came next, is an odd song, and with the extra-robotic nature of it brought to mind Devo. At the beginning of “Modern Guilt”, Beck laughingly admitted in the middle of the first verse that he forgot the lyrics! “Think I’m in Love” featured a sampling of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. There were jokes about the marijuana smell coming from the crowd and about Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. And there was dancing. Beck did his thing, the Beck version of dancing like Michael Jackson, while the rest of the band jumped around the stage with some abandon. By the time of main set closer “E-Pro”, where of course every single person in the audience sang along, the concert had become a celebration. The band had jumped and smashed into each other giddily throughout the song, a few mock falling to the ground when it ended. As the lights dimmed further, Beck unspooled a roll of yellow police tape across the length of the stage which read “Crime Scene Do Not Cross.” We’d come a long way from The Golden Age.
After the break, Beck came back on stage, cut the yellow tape and went into the Midnite Vultures romp “Sexx Laws”. Finally, for the grand finale, he and the band played a very extended version of “Where It’s At” with Sean Lennon (John and Yoko’s son, from opening band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger) joining them onstage with a “special tambourine.” In the middle of the song Beck began walking around the stage, bantering to the crowd, and then individually introducing the band members (who each got to do a short solo). Upon introducing himself, Beck jokingly said, “I don’t know what to do. I can sing up to 17 octaves.” He jokingly fell short, then put on an impressive vocal display, though again in mock self-deprecation he said “I guess 16 octaves.” Finally, after a short interlude of “One Foot in the Grave”, Beck and co. finished up Where It’s At, took some well-deserved bows and left the stage to loud applause. It was a fantastic show, a great night, and everything you could want or expect from this musical genius.
Y0u can read other reviews from Entertainment Weekly and theNew York Times Music Review. And here are photos by Gretchen Robinette courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan (though unfortunately these high-quality shots all appear to be from part 1 of the show, before the visual effects).
The Golden Age
Heart Is A Drum
[15 second break to mark end of the first half]
Soul of a Man
The New Pollution
Get Real Paid
Think I’m In Love
Where It’s At (With band introductions and “One Foot In the Grave” interlude)
Just go here and claim it!
The always wonderful, fun and generous They Might Be Giants are sharing for free their entire first (self-titled) album (also known as the “Pink Album”), as recorded over the course of their 2013 tour.
Here’s what they have to say:
THE STORY OF FIRST ALBUM LIVE
These performances were culled from shows on They Might Be Giants’ 2013 world tour. John Flansburgh and John Linnell are joined by their stellar band — Dan Miller on the guitar, Danny Weinkauf on bass, and Marty Beller on the drums. There is also a guest appearance by the Avatars of They.
THE STORY OF THE PINK ALBUM
They Might Be Giants’ first album, also known as the “pink album” because of the distinctive pink skyline in Rodney Allen Greenblat’s cover illustration,” was a turning point for both the band and the burgeoning world of indie rock.
They Might Be Giants had been performing in downtown NYC clubs and had become a fixture on the East Village scene where performance art and music flowed together in a vivid late night club scene. In those earlier years, the band was making recordings for their Dial-A-Song service and their demos were actively passed around town. While the album’s release in late 1986 was met with raves from critics (including the rare “A” rating from the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau), with no major label push or immediate radio interest, it seemed destined to settle comfortably into the Miscellaneous T section within a number of months. All that would change quickly when the band collaborated with video director Adam Bernstein, on a series of original clips that would get serious play on MTV….
TMBG has been releasing free stuff for years, and have consistently been ahead of the curve in Internet offerings. They have had both audio and video podcasts, a YouTube channel, a fan Wiki that they enthusiastically support, and an iPhone app. The Pink Album includes the song “Don’t Lets Start“, still a TMBG favorite. I haven’t listened to the live album yet (just downloaded now) but I’m sure it won’t disappoint. After all, it’s FREE!
T-3 days until Beck hits New York City! In honor of those two shows, my Shriek of the Week is a stand-alone single that Beck released before his latest album Morning Phase, called “I Just Started Hating Some People Today“. For anyone who listened to Morning Phase and wished they got a little of the weird, funny, Midnite Vultures-era Beck, instead of brooding Sea Change-era Beck, this song is for you.
“I Just Started Hating Some People Today” was put on out on 7″ vinyl through Third Man Records, i.e. the Jack White record label. It features White assisting with some background vocals and he also produced the song. The B-side is called “Blue Randy” and features White on drums. “I Just Started Hating Some People Today” is a really unusual song (which I suppose is usual for Beck), starting out as an old-school country song that suddenly switches up into hardcore punk, until finally ending as a funky jam. Country, punk and funk, with a lot of humor mixed in – Beck in a nutshell.
According to Third Man, the two songs were recorded in 2011 while Beck was in Nashville working on new material for his long awaited next album [my note: long-awaited then, it wouldn’t come out for 3 more years]. The songs spontaneously came together at the Third Man studio on Beck’s final day in town. The release became part of the Blue Series, a series of 7″ records from singers and bands that are traveling through Nashville, who are invited to stop by to record one or two songs at Third Man Studio to be produced by Jack White. The cover photos are taken in Third Man’s “blue room” photo studio/live venue. Blue Series artists cover a wide spectrum of musicians, including Tom Jones, Insane Clown Posse, Stephen Colbert with the Black Belles, and Jeff the Brotherhood. But no combination is as potent as Beck and White. (There is also a small Green Series with spoken word records.)
Listen to “I Just Started Hating Some People Today” here. 3 days until the shows!
Yesterday I posted Part I of my review of others’ mid-year music reviews (pretty meta, no?). It featured a sampling of the Top 25 Songs of 2014 So Far according to Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone and Spin‘s 50 Best Albums of 2014 So Far.
As promised, today I’m going to move on from the mainstream music magazines and highlight smaller or less known music sites, starting with:
Music blog Pretty Much Amazing (PMA) which, like Spin, offered up its 50 Best Albums of 2014 So Far (just posted yesterday). They also posted their 50 Best Songs of 2014 So Far. This site really is amazing, as despite the fact that they clearly meant this to be a six-month review, it was posted in mid-April! Nevertheless, I have a soft spot in my heart for PMA, as it was one of the first sites I leaned on to bring me up to speed on new music after losing my way for some years in the 2000s. Some highlights from the PMA lists, starting with the top albums (album links are to Spotify streams):
- 49 Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines. Who know that Tori Amos was still making music? Is the Lilith Fair reorganizing too? (One prominent Lilith Fair artists says no.)
- 41 Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal. The Brooklyn guitar kings make yet another list. Amen!
- 31 Speedy Ortiz, Real Hair. This is a band I wish I was paying more attention to. Every time I hear Speedy Ortiz, I like what I hear. They’ve been compared to Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, and Superchunk, among other jangly early ’90s indie rock bands. Time to jump on board.
- 25 Cloud Nothings, Here And Nowhere Else
- 20 Future Islands, Singles. Future Islands are the 2014 band that is everywhere you look. In part because of their noteworthy performance on Letterman, in part because there’s always some indie band that captures the nation’s attention (remember .fun?), this is the cool band that your moderately cool friends love. I don’t dislike them for that reason – for example, the same could be said about Phoenix in 2010 and I love them – but I don’t care much for Future Islands.
- 15 Beck, Morning Phase. 4 more days!
- 14 Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence. Well this is a bit of a surprise. I didn’t think anyone was on the LDR bandwagon anymore. PMA calls it “a stunning accomplishment,” adding, “Del Rey and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach (the album’s main producer) complete the logical trajectory laid out by “Video Games,” “Ride,” and “Young and Beautiful” and mercifully ignore everything in between.” As someone who still stands by those songs, I’m tempted to check out Ultraviolence.
- 9 Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love. I didn’t mention yesterday that this album is only 23 minutes long. It’s hard to believe, because PP packs so much into so little time. An incredibly forceful debut that will be hard to follow up.
- 8 tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack. Stop the madness!
- 2 Sharon Van Etten, Are We There and 1 St. Vincent, St. Vincent. Women rule 2014.
Next up, some highlights from PMA’s 50 Best Songs of 2014 So Far:
- 50 Dum Dum Girls, “Are You OK?”. Our first mention of the DDGs. I continue to believe that they went in the wrong direction with their latest album (which I talked about here), moving from low-fi to glossy. I hope their next is a return to form.
- 43 Lykke Li, “No Rest For The Wicked”. Another first mention, and another artists who went in a different direction with her third album. And another whom I previously loved and am now on the fence about. I’m not per se against artists evolving – for example, I love the continued metamorphosis of MGMT – but in the case of both the DDGs and Lykke Li, where once I was a huge fan I am now skeptical of the future.
- 36 Beck, “Country Down”. This would not have been my first choice off of Morning Phase (that would be “Blue Moon”). In fact, this might be my least favorite of the 12 songs on the album. It just goes to show how strong and diverse the album is overall.
- 28 Sharon Van Etten, “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” and 10 “Your Love Is Killing Me”. With all the mentions of Van Etten over the past two days, I thought it would be useful to highlight the two songs that PMA put on their list.
- 17 Caribou, “Can’t Do Without You”. I didn’t know that Caribou had new music out. “Odessa“, off their album Swim, was one of my favorite songs of 2010.
- 16 Todd Terje, “Johnny and Mary (featuring Bryan Ferry)”. Wait, Brian Ferry? At a minimum it makes you ask, who is Todd Terje?
- 02 Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)”. And here is the song that made them everyone’s darlings.
Moving on from PMA, I turn next to NPR, consistently a thoughtful guide to what’s worth listening to in today’s music. One of their many pieces of content is their All Songs Considered podcast, hosted by Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton . On this week’s show, the hosts were joined by NPR Music’s Stephen Thompson to recount their favorite music from the first six months of 2014. You can listen to or download the podcast episode here. In the meantime, here are some highlights from the show:
- Stephen beats Robin to the punch to claim Perfect Pussy as his favorite new band of the year. He says, “”I was amazed at how much [this record] had grown on me. There’s this incredible ferocity but there’s also layers, textures and surprises that roll in throughout the record.”
- Stephen names Sylvan Esso’s self-titled album one of his favorites of the year so far, saying “”Nick Sanborn creates these electronic beds for Amelia Meath’s vocals to lie atop. It’s an absolutely intoxicating record.” The song to check out is “Coffee“. Also, see Esso live in concert at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, courtesy of NPR.
- Boilen’s favorite new artist is a band called The Family Crest, a San Francisco-based seven-piece group. Boilen: “I’m so thrilled about this band. … Liam McCormick is opera-trained, and many of the musicians are classically trained. There’s some jazz musicians as well … really quite a force.” The song to check out is “The World“.
Finally, there’s Stereogum, a site that could hardly be called “under the radar” anymore but is still (in my opinion) the leading indie music taste-maker. They too posted the 50 Best Albums Of 2014 So Far. Highlights:
- The logo for the “50 Best” was styled to look similar to Pixies’ new album Indie Cindy; that would have made more sense had Indie Cindy made the cut.
- tUnE-yArDs’ Nikki Nack is all the way down at 47. I find that an encouraging sign that maybe it won’t make some year end lists.
- Similarly, St. Vincent is at 46, Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is at 29 and Future Islands’ Singles is at 28. Stereogum is clearly not afraid to stand alone with less-than enthusiastic rankings of these highly acclaimed albums.
- And then, I see Beck’s Morning Phase at 45. Oh well, you were bound to get one wrong guys!
- At #38 is the Hold Steady with Teeth Dreams. Doesn’t it seem like the Hold Steady’s time has passed?
- At #35 … Coldplay with Ghost Stories. Wow. I really didn’t see that coming. Coldplay. Coldplay?! As you can see, words escape me.
- We have another Perfect Pussy sighting, at #34. These lists are a little strange, aren’t they? How does one compare Coldplay and Perfect Pussy anyway, let alone decide that one is so slightly better than the other.
- The best cover art on this list? Duck Sauce on their album Quack (#31). Meanwhile, cover art that most accurately depicts how I often feel – Wye Oak on their album Shriek(#21).
- Two of my favorites are here again: Parquet Courts (25) and Cloud Nothings (23).
- Lana Del Rey shocking me again as Ultraviolence is at #15. I was willing to write off the PMA ranking as a fluke but now I’m determined to get a copy of this record. Surprises like this are why I like doing these kinds of exercises.
- The biggest surprise though is that nothing after #15 grabbed me. It was the usual assortment of albums that I’ve seen on these lists for two days now, the new ones from Swans, Sun Kil Moon, The War on Drugs, Against Me!, and Real Estate. I’m sure these are all very solid albums, but I have a feeling they are more likely than not flavors of the moment rather than lasting pieces of art. I don’t see a future where I listen to the 2014 The War on Drugs album (even if it is at #3), while I think I’ll be listening to Morning Phase, Sunbathing Animal, and maybe even Ultraviolence for years to come. Time will tell. Which is why I always make my lists three years after the year in question. With that in mind, if you’d like to read my Best of 2010, go ahead! I’ll be listening to Lana Del Rey apparently.
As the year reaches its halfway point, people and sites from all corners of the Internet have been posting their “Top 10/25/50 Songs/Albums/Whatever of 2014 … So Far.” The people just love their lists. I could do the same, but I’ve never been one to give instant reactions. There’s just too much I haven’t gotten around to listening to yet, and even what I have listened to I still need months or possibly even years to absorb and reflect. Instead, I’ve decided to scour the web for sources I trust and highlight some of their picks, so you don’t have to.
- At #1, my beloved Parquet Courts, with the song “Raw Milk”. I’m going to quote almost all of what Sheffield says here because I need the word the get out on this band:
All I was hoping was that these Brooklyn guitar twits would knock off the exact same album they made last time. Was that so much to ask? But Parquet Courts had different plans – Sunbathing Animal is so confident, so devious, so funny, so expansive, so loaded with surprises, so smart in places where you’d settle for clever. (And not a single track that sounds like Pavement. Crazy!) “Raw Milk” is their shaggiest guitar buzz: Andrew Savage and Austin Brown serenade the kind of girl who invades your soul and invites all her drunk dogwalker friends to crash in your room but you don’t mind because she’s there. (And then she leaves.)
- And then all the way down at #25 (but amazingly still making lists like these) is Morrissey with “Oboe Concerto”. Sheffield: “‘Oboe Concerto,’ the show-stopper ballad from his new album, is the saddest, heaviest, realest song he’s recorded in a decade, as Morrissey raises a glass to mourn his absent friends.”
- In between, here are a few songs that intrigue me and could make my own year-end list: Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me” (#3); Perfect Pussy, “Interference Fits” (#5); Cloud Nothings, “I’m Not Part of Me” (#13); The Old 97s, “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” (#18); Tacocat, “Crimson Wave” (#22).
Next, in a bit of ridiculousness, Spin presents The 50 Best Albums of 2014 So Far. 50!! In other words two albums per week make this list. Lightweights need not apply. At least they weren’t audacious enough to try to put them in order; the top 50 are listed alphabetically. Some highlights:
- Beck – Morning Phase – Here’s what I wrote about Morning Phase when the album came out back in February. Since then, the more times I listen to it the more I fall in love with this record. Next week, Beck comes to NYC for two nights of shows!
- Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else – SPIN‘s Claire Lobenfeld says: “Cloud Nothings take the best bits from their previous tutelage under alt-god producer Steve Albini, apply them to lo-fi pop-punk structures and infuse all of it with tightly wound angst.” Given how much I liked their 2012 album Attack On Memory, I’m excited to eventually get my hands on this one.
- Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas – The Australian singer is the breakthrough indie star of 2014 thus far, and for good reason. Listen to “Avant Gardner“, the hit single off of this double EP, and you’ll immediately hear why.
- The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits – Four albums in four years yet this Brooklyn band changes its sound more often than some people change … well, you get the idea. SPIN’s J.Y. calls this album a “sweltering orgy of noise.” That’s not exactly what I was hoping for from the band I once wrote about gushingly, but I still plan to check this record out in due time.
- Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love – A very good debut album (I picked it up at the Captured Tracks shop), worth owning for the cover design alone.
- Sharon Van Etten – Are We There – I like Van Etten, but her music doesn’t move me quite the way Courtney Barnett’s does. In the battle of up and coming indie vocalists, Van Etten has the lead but not my vote. To be fair, I haven’t heard Are We There yet. Yet I’m not rushing to.
- tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack – I mention tUnE-yArDs only to point out an artist and album that is inevitably going to make all kinds of year end lists, yet I don’t get at all. Not only did I dislike their debut album, w h o k i l l, I couldn’t fathom what everyone sees in them. I’ve heard one song from Nikki Nack and the story remains the same. I’m open to explanations if anyone has one.
That’s it for today and for the mainstream music magazines. Coming up … part 2, where I’ll try and feature smaller or less known music sites.
Yesterday I posted about the National’s first of three nights at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell, putting up a bunch of photos from the show, since I was lucky enough to be very close to the stage. On night 2 I wasn’t as close, but still had a great time as I moved from the left to the right and took in the concert from a bunch of different vantage points. One thing I learned: Once you get past the very front, the crowd at Prospect Park isn’t very engaged with the show itself. There is a lot of talking during the songs, little dancing … it feels a lot more like friends hanging out with the National playing in the background than a full concert experience. It’s not my preference but as long as people are having a good time I suppose it’s OK.
Like yesterday, I’m going to post the setlist with a photo for each song. I’ve tried to capture sights and angles that I didn’t show yesterday, which you’ll see in some of these pics. And if you’re looking for more that just pics, my thoughts on the National’s live performances and spectacular catalog of songs can be found here.
Just before I get to that, one thing I love about the National that I learned from their six night stint at the Beacon Theater in December 2011 – they change up their sets night to night so that people attending multiple shows have a different experience. About half of the songs played last night were different from the night before. Very few bands mix things up that much. I’m almost persuaded to go to night three! Anyway, without further ado, the setlist and pics:
Don’t Swallow the Cap
I Should Live in Salt
Mistaken for Strangers
Sea of Love
All the Wine
Daughters of the Soho Riots
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This is the Last Time
Baby We’ll Be Fine
[The encore is, sadly, when my phone died, so no photos of Matt running through the crowd during Mr. November (getting beat up and bloodied), standing on the front railing during Terrible Love, and once again singing Vanderlyle folk-style with the band. But I promise it all happened!]
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks