Dog Days And Bowery Nights
We on this blog are, by definition, jaded. We go to shows assuming we know exactly what we're going to see and hear, and in this day and age, rare is the band that defies those expectations. But when it happens, it makes a mighty impact.
That's exactly what went down at the Dr. Dog show last night (Aug. 27) at New York's Bowery Ballroom. We've seen these guys play two or three times, always opening for other bands, and while they were always enjoyable, they never made that much of an impression on us. Not so last night.
Playing its new album, "Fate," almost exclusively, the group conjured a luscious rock sound only hinted at on record, with two different singers commanding the mic and a variety of styles (Elvis Costello-tinged pop, Beatles-drenched-but-in-a-good-way rave-ups) twisted into cool new forms.
Each song sounded better than the next, gradually completing a picture of a band we can't believe we've slept on for this long. Afterward, we settled into a backstage hang with the boys and a cast of their best Philadelphia comrades, where the Yuengling flowed as freely and the whole group serenaded singer Toby Leaman's wife with "Happy Birthday."
At the center of the after-show fun was R. Stevie Moore, the 50-something home recording eccentric who appears to be something of an icon for the Dr. Dog family. Moore and his band warmed up the Bowery crowd before Dr. Dog with delightfully shambling garage rock, frequently punctuated with non-sequiturs about being Tasered or having germs in your sperm.
There was also this gem: "What good is a good deal without a good dealer?" Oh, and Moore was dressed in what appeared to be pajamas, a bathrobe and a pink scarf. The ensemble was completed with a backscratcher that we think he threw in the garbage backstage for some reason.
Throughout, we soaked up the camaraderie between all these folks like a fly on the wall, appreciative to have this snapshot of a band on the way up but still grounded by the people to which they are closest.
(Blue)Tip Of The Iceberg
The alt-rock reunion craze of the past five years has finally gotten around to the Dischord roster, and J.I. is over the moon because of it (Jawbox, you better be next). First Shudder To Think shrugged off the cobwebs and announced a fall North American tour, and now Bluetip is back for a handful of one-off shows six years after splitting.
The first was Sunday night (Aug. 24) in front of a healthy crowd at New York's Mercury Lounge, and damnit if these guys don't look almost exactly the same as they did eight years ago when they were playing at the late, great Brownie's.
But they sounded about as tight as ever, playing all 13 of the songs they'd learned in advance of upcoming gigs in London and Spain (favorites like "Yellow Light" and "Castanet" were oddly missing, with frontman Jason Farrell admitting of the latter, "it's still a little dusty").
Farrell, guitarist Dave Stern, bassist Jake Kump and drummer Joe Gorelick wasted no time rocketing back to their hardcore glory days by opening with "Nickelback," the first song on their 1996 Dischord debut, "Dischord No. 101." From there Bluetip tore into tracks like "Cheap Rip," "Join Us," "Precious," "Haunted House," "F-Minus" and "Salinas," conjuring its signature blend of Shudder To Think's tough guy riffing, the Dismemberment Plan's self-lacerating lyrics and Fugazi's dynamic post-punk.
Farrell recalled the band's early tours prior to "Slovakian," a weary travelogue that balances the juvenile desire to "piss on every continent" with the sobering realization that "it's yesterday back home."
The encore was all early stuff, highlighted by "If I Ever Sleep Again" and "Past Tense" from the debut album. Then the boys happily walked off stage and out the door, leaving a delightful ringing in the ears to remember them by one last time.
Leroi Moore: 1961-2008
On a personal note, this writer was awfully fond of DMB for a period in the mid-1990s, during which I had the privilege of meeting Leroi a couple of times. I can attest that he was an extremely friendly guy who seemed to love nothing more than playing music every night with his best friends. DMB continues to reach new audiences some 15 years after first exploding out of Charlottesville, and Leroi's sax work is a big reason why, particularly on songs like "Seek Up," "One Sweet World" and "#41." Our thoughts are with the DMB organization and Moore's family. -- Jonathan Cohen
This Is Important, But I Know You're Not Listening
That line from Wilco's "Impossible Germany" is what J.I. would have liked to shout at the scores of imported meatheads clogging up the middle of McCarren Park Pool last night. But even these jokers couldn't dampen a triumphant 27-song set from Jeff Tweedy and company amid a beautiful summer evening in the heart of Williamsburg.
Wilco has been touring 2007's "Sky Blue Sky" for more than a year, and the measured, mellow pace of that album's material has gradually worked its way onto the live stage. One could argue it's actually made Wilco too loose. Indeed, minus the loud freak-outs in opener "Via Chicago" and the always-rousing "A Shot in the Arm," it took the band quite awhile to really start kicking.
"Handshake Drugs," 13 songs in, was the first lift-off, with the loping "Heroes"-esque bass and drum interplay from John Stirratt and Glen Kotche underscoring Nels Cline's shower of guitar noise. From there Wilco laid waste to a wonderfully varied set, particularly "Pot Kettle Black" and an astonishing one-two punch of "Poor Places" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)."
On the latter, Tweedy marveled at how the audience had actually changed the beat while clapping along. Earlier, he made a snarky comment about the notoriously hip neighborhood by saying, "Maybe it'd help if we threw in the drum beat to 'Love Will Tear Us Apart.'"
The Total Pros horn section augmented a number of cuts, including "Can't Stand It," which had been relegated to the dustbin prior to this tour, the why'd-you-leave-me "Hate It Here" and the riffy Southern rocker "Walken." Their contributions served to reinforce Wilco's Americana roots, which at times on the past three albums have been obscured by experimentation.
Two more largely resurrected "Being There" tracks, "Monday" and "Outtasite (Outta Mind)," highlighted the encore, which wrapped with "I'm a Wheel" and Tweedy's reminder, "I will turn on you."
Turn us on is more like it, especially when he said Wilco would be back "as soon as we finish our album." Well, hurry up then! We'll be waiting.
The Major Music Festival Quandary
- One ticket to see Your Favorite Rock Band: $60, plus Ticket
BastardMaster fees $20 = $75
- Transportation: mass transit markets $2 - $10, driving markets $15 for parking
- Two beers = $16
- A hot dog or some other chemically altered meat/cheese product = $8
- All in all, $101-$114 for one person/day
Early ticket buyers for the Lollapalooza music festival this past weekend (Aug. 1-3) could snag a day ticket for $60/day plus all the above, and with 124 bands, it averages out to $1 and some change per band. A dollar to check Nine Inch Nails rock through "Closer" sounds like a sweet deal, right?
With a lineup as sweet as this year's Lollapalooza, it is a tasty-sounding deal, but bitterness overtakes when one is faced with the Major Music Festival Quandary: pick between Nine Inch Nails and, say, Kanye. If you don't like Kanye, this is no problem. That's why at music fests you have the choice of five other bands if you don't like the one. But what if you love both?
Day One of Lolla was picture-perfect, considering Radiohead was the only band to play the last slot of the day. But what about Wilco v. Rage? Sure, the two groups are stylistically different and would draw different crowds, but for the music lover, even retorting "both" is futile: to attend both would be to see dots dance on lit-up square from a million miles away.
Lollapalooza's C3 organizers have a tough job splitting these interests, but also trying to appeal to a broad girth of music lovers. There's 40 bands a day, but (believe us) you only really have a good chance to see eight or nine of them, and that's not even for full sets. You then have the adult pangs of choice.
So what it boils down to: festivals make music lovers greedy. Instead of paying $60+ to see your favorite band and a decent opener at some amphitheatre, you pay $60+ to see a headliner, live with not seeing the other headliner, and pick between 7-8 other openers, alongside 74,999 other festival-goers. This year's first-ever sold out Lollapalooza weekend was a huge success on a curation standpoint, but for the attendee, much more complex emotions wreck the conscience as we all picked our battles between good and better.