Category Archives: pop/rock

Scarce at The Plough and Stars

So I didn’t make it to the Crystal Stilts or the +/- shows, but I did wind up at The Plough and Stars last week to see this band originally from Rhode Island that M likes called Scarce. (The photo above is from a previous show from this year.) The band has an interesting history involving a near-fatal brain hemorrhage, which you can read about here. That recounting ends with their breakup, but on their MySpace page you can find more information about how they got back together.

They had a show at T.T.’s a couple weeks ago that I missed, but the show at The Plough and Stars, while probably an anomalous introduction to the group (being acoustic and sans drums), was quite enjoyable. In their acoustic incarnation Chick Graning’s voice contributes a lot to my feeling that the group reminds me of Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann’s subsequent bluesy band Crooked Fingers. There’s also a bit of Frank Black’s solo sound (also bluesy) mixed in. On their album, however, the group rocks much harder, so I think the acoustic sound is rather a separate beast.

Either way, though, I’ve been enjoying what I’ve heard. At the show I saw, the duo (which includes Joyce Raskin on bass and pretty much equally-divided vocals) were clearly having fun, and the whole set had a nice, relaxed feeling. The chord progressions have a nice amount of surprises thrown in that keep the songs feeling fresh, and the duo’s vocals work nicely together. After they finished they took a break and then came back with a short set of older songs. Highlights among the newer songs were “The Hurricane” and “Between My Teeth” (neither of which have been recorded yet, alas), and “Ocean Blue”, a song that Raskin supplied yearning, almost chanteuse-y vocals to. Of the older songs one that particularly stood out was “Sense Of Quickness” from their first album. If you’re looking for a CD they’ve got some for sale on their MySpace page and some mp3s on Amazon.

I’m looking forward to seeing the group again, acoustic or not, although it seems they’re going to be taking some time off to record their new album. Also have really been getting to like the shows at The P&S, which are small but nice and laid-back and clearly for fans of good music instead of fans of whatever trendy band happens to be in town. Will be trying to get myself over there more in the coming months.

Upcoming for December

In general I’m pretty picky about going out to see theater in Boston, but I’m intrigued by the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s The Seafarer at the Boston Center for the Arts. Their description is:

    A 2008 Tony Nominee for Best Play, “The Seafarer” is a funny and
    haunting alternative to traditional holiday fare. On Christmas Eve in
    North Dublin, Sharky Harkin finds himself reluctantly hosting old
    friends at the rundown house he shares with his older brother. A lot of
    booze and card-playing carry the men into Christmas Day when Sharky must face the grim promise he made to one of his guests decades ago.

Half-price tickets are available at GoldStar.com.

Will also be checking out the MIT Museum’s new holography exhibit:

    Throughout the winter beginning at dusk, the MIT Museum presents an exhibition of contemporary, three-dimensional holographic artworks displayed in the windows, viewable only from outside the Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery. Featured will be holograms by six international artists whose varied imagery represents artistic and technical advancements in the field of display holography.

Will try to make it to the opening this Friday, although my sources tell me it’s probably going to be more kid-friendly than not:

    December 5, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
    Lighting Ceremony and Opening Celebration
    Free admission, refreshments and street festivities

A few shows coming up I may hit as well. Love is All + Crystal Stilts at Great Scott in Allston next Monday, December 8. The latter is described by one as “the love child of The Jesus and Mary Chain + Joy Division”, haha. Their MySpace page is here.

+/- is playing The Middle East Upstairs the following night, but I’m probably going to have to pass, being too wussy to go to a show two nights in a row. Yes, I’m getting old. 😛 [Update: It looks like the show has been moved to Saturday, December 13. But I’m going to be out of town! Darn.]

So looks like that’s the next couple of weeks figured out. Phew! 😉

Cotton Candy at the Plough & Stars and Ludovico’s “From Britain”

[The preview for this review is here.]

Had a good time at The In Out and Cotton Candy show at the Plough and Stars last Friday. I was correct in my surmise that M wanted to go because CC is on TeenBeat Records. And actually CC is apparently comprised of the TeenBeat man himself, Mark Robinson, along with TeenBeat mainstay Evelyn Hurley. Dug up this interview with Robinson from 2002ish which is right around the time he relocated to the Boston area.

There’s a discouraging paucity of info online about the duo Cotton Candy itself, though, which makes me suspect they either haven’t been around that long or are more of a throw-together sort of team-up (or both). They’re not even listed as a group on ye olde TeenBeat Records website, but live they gave a very good impression. Their all-too-short setlist alternated between laid-back but catchy songs with the duo sharing guitar duties, and TV and radio jingles rendered a capella (plus a completely random recreation of David Bowie’s guest appearance on season 2 of the British Extras). There was a pervading sense of fun and whimsy that penetrated my usual Bostonian veneer of jadedness and came off as utterly charming and winning.

So much so that I sprung the 5 bucks for the 3-track EP and was likewise not disappointed. On disc the unique charm of the duo doesn’t come across quite so clearly, and the connection to Robinson’s other work (e.g. Flin Flon and his solo recordings), with their shared spare guitar, sparse texture, and easy vocal delivery, becomes more evident. But the songs (“Invisible Kisses”, “A Sentimental Song” (which is on TeenBeat’s MySpace page), and the clear forefront in my affections, “Fantastic and Spectacular”) for the most part successfully navigate the fine line between too twee and perfectly easy quirkiness. The latter song was memorable from their live set, as was the song they closed with but apparently haven’t yet recorded entitled something like “Free Love on the Freeway”. Here’s hoping that they record a new EP soon, particularly in time for their New Year’s performance The Middle East Upstairs. M and I will definitely be in attendance. The info on the website is:

    Thu 1/1/09
    4th Annual Indie Pop New Year’s Day Night with One Happy Island, Cotton Candy (Mark Robinson & Evelyn Hurley), The Smittens, Cathy Cathodic – 18+ $9 NOTE doors at 8:30pm

The In Out, who was headlining, was also enjoyable. Live they came across much better than the recorded tracks I’d heard, with a more varied sound. Nothing too unusual, but a solid performance and an enjoyable set. Had never been to the P&S for a show, but it was nice and intimate, and although there wasn’t much of an audience those who were there seemed to be having a good time.

Last Sunday was the Ludovico Ensemble‘s “From Great Britain”. To recap the program:

    Cantata X by Jonathan Harvey
    Nenia: The Death of Orpheus by Harrison Birtwistle
    Dark Mother by Andy Vores
    (Featuring Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist Julianne Lee)

First off, I have to say the programming was well thought out and came off well. The first and third works were based on myths, and the second work had a fantastical, mystical element that complemented them well. Also, the first two works featured soprano and three clarinets, which added to the unity of the program. Those two works, both from the 70’s, felt a bit dated, but the performance still felt worthwhile, helped in large part by the soprano, Aliana de la Guardia. De la Guardia’s focus, control, expressiveness, not to mention beautiful singing, continues to impress, and her commitment to the music drew the audience completely in (particularly in some of the Birtwistle which at times would just sound laughably quaint otherwise). The clarinets did not often contribute a particularly clear texture to those two works, but the scoring isn’t particularly helpful in that regard.

The Vores work, Dark Mother, from 1999, was a heavily programmatic piano trio recounting the myth of Persephone from her mother, Demeter’s, perspective. The score feels fresh, and the performance was for the most convincing, although I question their choice to retune before the final movement which I found disruptive. (Mp3s of the performance by Triple Helix can be found here.)

All in all, though, the concert was a good length, and this is a group that is clearly providing Boston with worthwhile new music experiences. Their next performances are Boston Conservatory Student Works in January, followed by Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments and Feldman’s Crippled Symmetry in February.

M83 at the Middle East Downstairs

So M83 was downstairs at the Middle East last Tuesday, November 18. Missed the opening group School of Seven Bells, but still managed to get a decent view of M83. Eventually, that is, because the floor was packed. This guy in front of me was really invading my personal space, but by the middle of the set enough people had shuffled around that I could actually see something other than the back of his fat head. Ha.

Not that there was much to see, because this was definitely one of the most dimly-lit shows I’ve been to. Which was kind of an interesting concept, but also made the show rather more monotonous than it needed to be, particularly since the setlist favored their older album (from 2005), Before the Dawn Heals Us, instead of their newer one, Saturdays=Youth. The latter was noted for being more accessible, with more vocals, more hooks, and just generally catchier songs instead of instrumental mood pieces. Even though I could happily listen to pretty much any and all synth music, the songs on the older album just weren’t interesting enough to keep me enthralled. The crowd didn’t seem to mind at all, though, and clapped along whenever they detected a faster beat. Main man Anthony Gonzalez had a tendency to look like he was humping his keyboard during these faster tunes which was somewhat distracting, and I still haven’t heard for sure why they keep the drummer behind a Plexiglas wall. Still, all in all the show was enjoyable, helped in part because of the saving grace of Morgan Kibby, who, reprising her role on Saturdays=Youth, contributed her light, catchy vocals to the proceedings (as well as playing keyboards). Oh, and a special mention must be made of the encore, “Couleurs”, which received a rockin’ arrangement and was a great closer. And fret not, my fellow Cantabridgians: if you missed them this time around apparently as soon as the group winds up this tour they’re going to be touring with the Killers and back in Boston at ye olde Agganis Arena January 26.

The most accurate setlist I’ve been able to find so far has been
for the show in Atlanta just a few days before the one in Cambridge (I thought they’d also played “You appearing” but I could be wrong):

1. Run Into Flowers
2. *
3. Moon Child
4. Kim & Jessie
5. We Own the Sky
6. Graveyard Girl
7. Gone
8. Teen Angst
9. Highway of Endless Dreams
10. Don’t Save Us From the Flames
11. Skin of the Night
12. Guitar and a Heart
13. Couleurs (encore)

Some pics from this tour are floating around:
– A few pics and a short review of the Boston show at mel.opho.be
Nice set of pics from the NY show at BrooklynVegan
Random Flickr set from the Atlanta show

There’s also a cool set of videos of studio performances from May with the same touring band at KCRW on YouTube. And here’s an enthusiastic review of the Boston show at the Boston Herald.

Neil Halstead at the Lizard Lounge

Last week somehow I ended up at the Lizard Lounge to see Neil Halstead of Mojave 3 fame, because my ever adventurous concert-going buddy wanted to check it out. I hadn’t been familiar with either, but I listened to the stream of his entire most recent album Oh! Mighty Engine on his MySpace page. At its best some of the songs sound a bit like the dreamier side of Nick Drake, and it’s enjoyable if not particularly unusual.

The same could be said of a lot of the live performance. We got there half an hour late due to fact it was an early show (1 of 2 the LL was running that night) and the time of the show being completely unclear (I’ve learned never to trust the times listed on people’s MySpace pages which seem to always be wrong), but we still caught an hour’s worth of music. We may have missed a number of the newer songs, but it seems he did a fair number from his previous solo album, also dipping into his catalog of Mojave 3 tunes.

By the time we got there Halstead seemed to have settled into a very mellow set which emphasized a very Bob Dylan-esque delivery and, as you’d expect, it made things sound even more generic than they were. Halstead was accompanied by an able bassist and a lead guitarist who also provided mandolin on some songs. The latter provided much of the interest starting out, but once they hit “Elevenses”, one of the faster tracks on the new album, and “Paint a Face”, one of the best songs from the album, things picked up for me, and they ended on a high note. Other highlights for me were “Two Stones in my Pocket” from from his previous solo album and “Who Do You Love” from the Mojave 3 album Out of Tune. The crowd was relatively small but appreciative.

I’ve only come across one other blog entry on the show, although apparently Brad of Bradley’s Almanac fame was at the show also (actually in retrospect I think I saw him there). The pic above is one a few from his Flickr stream (which I hope he doesn’t mind me including). Now that I’m getting out to shows more I’m reminded of how great his site is, which I’ve dipped into off and on but which I’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on. (And no, I’m not just saying that to suck up. Ha.) 😉

In terms of mp3s, mojave3online.com has a link to some live tracks the touring band recently recorded for MySpace. So if you somehow missed them, this is a pretty close approximation. There are also a couple of solo shows from his previous tour in 2002 on archive.org.

Upcoming this weekend

Will catch up on reviews later, but for this weekend tonight I’m going to be at the Plough and Stars in between Harvard and Central Sq. to see The In Out and Cotton Candy (not to be confused with the SF group of the same name). Had never heard of either, but M was going; I’m guessing it’s because the latter is on TeenBeat Records, home also of Versus and +/-. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard: The In Out seems to be post-punkish, whereas the Cotton Candy track on TeenBeat’s MySpace page is more upbeat indie rock.

Sunday night it’s the Ludovico Ensemble. Their core is mostly made up mostly of Boston Conservatory grads. Here’s the info for the concert:

    Seully Hall, The Boston Conservatory, 8 The Fenway
    From Great Britain
    Sunday, November 23, 2008, 8:00pm
    Cantata X by Jonathan Harvey
    Nenia: The Death of Orpheus by Harrison Birtwistle
    Dark Mother by Andy Vores
    (Featuring Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist Julianne Lee)

Upcoming for November

Unfortunately there are two new music concerts this coming Friday,
BMOP’s Concertos for Strings and Orchestra featuring five concertos, and BMV’s Credo in US concert, featuring American composers. Of the two it looks like we’ll probably end up at the BMOP concert, unless of course we get lazy.

Also coming up is the French shoegaze-y band M83 downstairs at the Middle East next Tuesday, November 18. Opening is a group called School of Seven Bells. Just started listening to them now, and they seem to be a similar vibe as M83. A bit too Stereolab-esque, but I’m liking what I’m hearing so far so I’ll probably check them out.

On my list of must-sees is the Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s production of The Merchant of Venice. The group is relatively new and constantly moves locations; according to the mission statement on their website: “Moving around the city from one exciting location to another will keep our productions interesting and will help us attract a wide variety of audiences.” They’ve found a success story in me, because I saw two productions they did in Harvard Square and both were very solid and enjoyable. So I’ll be following them to South Boston for this next production, which opened last night but which I haven’t seen any press on yet. The Globe ran a preview of the production which you can find here.

So that’s a bit of November figured out. Haven’t gotten anything set for December though, so I’ll have to start scouting around for something other than the usual bland holiday fare.