Eleanor Friedberger and Hospitality at Schuba’s (Chicago), May 1st 2012
Sometimes, great shows occur when you least expect it or when you least expect to be at a show! Recently, I was trying to explain to a friend the benefits of having a Twitter account even if you weren’t in the habit of or interested in “tweeting.” If only I had the conversation with my friend today. Yesterday, during a quick check on my Twitter account to see what amusing things Wayne Coyne (of the Flaming Lips) and Nicki Minaj were up to during these days, I saw that Merge Records tweeted free tickets to see Eleanor Friedberger (aka 1/2 of the Fiery Furnaces) and Hospitality at Schuba’s to whomever emailed them in response to their tweet. Luckily, I was quick on the draw (and on Twitter at the right time) and won the tickets. My initial plan was to go see Hospitality’s set and perhaps catch part of Eleanor’s set. Why the dismissive attitude? Well, I liked Eleanor’s record Last Summer but aside from “My Mistakes” and “Heaven”, I was admittedly a bit blasé about it. Going in without expectations can sometimes be a really good thing…
Hospitality played a wonderful set and were a lot louder and aggressive than they sound on their self-titled debut record. They are pure fun and adrenaline, sounding a lot like a quirky (read: less polished and orchestrated) latter days Belle and Sebastian or Camera Obscura. The lead singer Amber Papini has a textbook (or near perfect) indie-pop voice – melodic and eccentric sounding. If they are playing festivals in a city, neighborhood, or borough near you, make sure to shimmy on over.
- Click on the song title to listen to “Eighth Avenue” or “Betty Wang” – I think this track is ripe for inclusion on a Wes Anderson film soundtrack.
Now, Eleanor Friedberger completely blew me away. I’ve seen some really wonderful performers this calendar year (Adam Arcuragi, Sharon Van Etten, Jeff Mangum, Lost in the Trees, Wild Flag, to name my favorites thus far) and this performance definitely ranked in with those. A large percentage of her set consisted of new material that hasn’t been recorded and the songs were absolutely phenomenal – in my experience, it is rare that new material is that good live. I can’t provide song names as I was observing casually but I will say that the songs had a very late 70s New York proto-punk feel (i.e., Patti Smith’s Horses, Television’s Marquee Moon, the Runaways s/t) – bigger, rockier and even jazzier than the previous material. Also, her vocals were stronger and richer, sounding at times like a cross between Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) and Joan Jett. In other words, it was awesome and I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears peeled for new material from Eleanor in the months to come. (For the record, I spoke with her afterwards and she said she’s going into the studio this summer to record, so we should expect a new record either very late 2012 or early 2013, but I’ll keep my eyes out for it. Best part of seeing bands at smaller venues is that you can talk to them after the show!)
Frankie Rose and DIVV (formerly known as Dive) at Township (Chicago), April 30th, 2012
Arriving just as Dive started into their shoegazer-rock filled set, I stood stage right about three feet behind the lead singer and guitarist, looking very much like a young Nevermind-era Kurt Cobain (bright dyed blonde hair in a bob-cut). I don’t think this similarity was un-coincidental as I later discovered the group was named after the Nirvana song. (Note, I did see today that they have changed their name to DIIV because they’d grown out of that name. I hardly even had time to adore and mourn. Alas information travels quickly in the modern age.) DIIV’s set was good. I have to admit that I had a difficult time distinguishing the differences between some of the songs. They appeared to re-use the same guitar riff on every other song.
- Listen here (via PFork) to DIIV’s newest single “Doused” , which definitely has a late 80s British fuzz-pop feel (a distorted Oasis with elements of the Cure set to the feel of My Bloody Valentine).
Following soon thereafter (about a ten to fifteen minute set break, really quick), Frankie Rose appeared on a tightly packed (and very warm) stage. Going in I was a bit skeptical about how Frankie’s album, Insterstellar (which is great, check it out here), with a good deal of electronic elements and aural soundscapes would translate into a live performance. The set was expertly work(wo)man-like despite a less than stellar sound system and very cramped space – not really an ideal space for a singer whose songs are sort of indie-rock dream pop, a lot of the sound seemed to collapse back in on itself and create dissonant rather than dreamy qualities. The band brilliantly burned through fast-paced and blistering renditions of “Know Me” and “Night Swim”, which had the crowd dancing and bopping (not an easy thing to do with 20-somethings around here, then again there were more women in the crowd and less men in skinny jeans and mustaches, just sayin’). Returning for a one song encore, Frankie closed with the new album’s most haunting number a “Pair of Wings”, a song seemingly about escapism and opening yourself to others.
Tortoise at the Empty Bottle (Chicago), April 28th, 2012
Chicago may not have as many musicians as Brooklyn; the cache, sunshine, and hills of Beverly/L.A.; the weirdness of Austin (as well as SXSW); or the coffee culture and climate of Seattle, but at least we’ve got two of the hardest working and most creative bands in America living and playing here with great regularity. If Wilco is Chicago’s House Band #1, then Tortoise is House Band #1a. Now, perhaps, Tortoise doesn’t have the international or perhaps even domestic recognition of Tweedy and Co., but their influence, musicianship and genius is no less by any means. Perhaps, Tortoise’s two biggest “flaws” (read: hindrances to great acclaim) are the fact that (1) they are completely instrumental (people tend to like catchy lyrics to accompany their music) and (2) their music defies classification because it constantly meshes, mashes, and crosses musical genres from rock to jazz to blues to soul to electronica to contemporary/21st Century Classical. Far too often artists that paint outside the box, or make it difficult to figure out where the box is, escape popular notoriety but tend to be artists’ artists and this is most certainly the case with Tortoise, who are much beloved and oft-cited as influences by many great indie rock acts. Regardless of their popularity, these guys put on an excellent live show, replete with masterful and awe-inspiring musician-ship. I now I’m spoiled having seen them so many times and getting to watch some of the best percussionists in contemporary rock music ply their trade just a few feet before my eyes. A Tortoise show is a thing of aural and visual beauty to behold and make sure to catch them whenever they are touring around the country (or putting up a local show).
- Check out Tortoise’s It’s All Around You (click ←); a good entry into their work.
More music and albums tomorrow but I’ll leave you with this excellent piece of space-age, dub-step-infused, electronica from Canada’s Kuhrye-oo “Give In (For the Fame)”.
Also, be on the lookout for an Explosions In the Sky tour (Chicago dates just announced). I saw them a couple of years back and it was one of the loudest and best shows I’ve ever seen.
p.s. if you are keeping count at home, I’m up to 24 shows this year with 25 on Friday evening — M83 at the Riviera. Can I surpass last year’s 50?