Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Archive for Concerts

Concert Review: Joanna Newsom



At the regal Riverbend Centre on Saturday night, Joanna Newsom proved why she’s one of today’s most iconoclastic and oddly appealing musicians: not only did she mesh shockingly well with the ultra-classy Austin Symphony Orchestra, but she also managed to get in trouble for hauling a bottle of Maker’s Mark onto stage. And it’s in this almost-accidental appeal to both sides of the concert-going spectrum—as well as an almost embarrassing wealth of talent—that she has become a powerful force in sub-pop music.

Beginning by playing her acclaimed 2006 release Ys straight through, Newsom remained faithful to the studio recordings, and hit even the most difficult notes with ease. Certainly one of the most surprising developments of Newsom’s recent career is her burgeoning vocal confidence, as she no longer feels the need to render her voice childlike as a way of overcoming her insecurities regarding its uniqueness. Alternately impressive is that during these five lengthy songs—the shortest of which runs longer than seven minutes—the Peter Bay-led symphony ably and enthusiastically performed the Van Dyke Parks-arranged strings, making Austin proud by serving as a perfect match for Newsom’s songs.

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Concert Review: Of Montreal


Dear Of Montreal:

I remember way back in the day when you were singing silly little ditties on the four-track, or when you were talking about old people in the cemetery, or disconnecting the dots, or just plain old doing nothing. Ah, I remember those times like they were yesterday, when no one knew you except the fine few obsessed with that whole Elephant Six thingy. And you were so much like the Beatles!

But look how you’ve grown! Now you’ve got this whole lovely stage presence, where you like to get as nekkid as the local laws allow, with the blue lights flashing all around…you even have the money for fancy screens with disturbing cat-centric videos that look like something out of an lysergic Wall redux! And you yourself, Kevin, you’ve been working out! It makes me so proud, how magnetic you are on stage, everyone’s eyes glued to you and your pretty makeup and oversized package! Of course you still write all the songs yourself, but you’ve grown up so much! Even if you’ve become kind of a weirdo in the process!

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Concert Review: Cat Power

Things we learned Saturday night about Cat Power frontwoman Chan Marshall: that she has a busted eardrum…that she’s on steroids…that she wants to shoot each of the stage-lining speakers… that she likes to apologize when she thinks she’s being unprofessional… that she was born deaf…that she had family in the crowd who were judging her…that steroids make you angry and that’s why you’re stronger…that she points out people who appear ill in the crowd even when they aren’t really ill…that she tells people when she coughs up something green…The list could go on. And it became apparent through this, and Marshall’s constant running to stage left (and off the stage…and onto the adjacent stage…and in the middle of songs…and between songs…) to consult the sound technicians, that her reputation as one of the most quixotic and mood-driven musicians in the world today is completely and totally fucking earned. It’s almost enough to make you wonder why she keeps getting gigs. And then you hear her sing.

Chan Marshall, god love her, is blessed with an absolutely stunning voice, and that, coupled with her skillful and ultra-professional backing band, makes her not only one of music’s most neurotic personalities, but also one of its most talented. It seemed like a dose of hubris when she was introduced as “perhaps the world’s greatest soul singer,” but it also seems pretty hard finding a counter-argument. Playing a variety of her famed cover songs and selections from her original work, she effortlessly teased passion out of her sore throat, and wowed her audience with an uncanny ability to seem entirely distracted and entirely focused at the exact same time.

So, yeah, Cat Power. A study in contrasts, and an utterly unique performer. Although I was often annoyed by her strange tics and the almost frightening temper that was constantly boiling just beneath the surface of her performance, I can say one thing for sure: there is no way in hell I’m not seeing her next time she comes to town. I mean, who knows what we’ll learn?

[Photo courtesy Eric Uhlir]

Concert Review: Ocote Soul Sound

Sometimes, you just want a band to shut up and play some music. And sometimes, that band you want to shut up just won’t shut up, and feels the need to talk between every song, perhaps in an effort to overcome the vocals-less music. Sometimes, that talk you just want to stop is way too preachy for anyone’s good. Sometimes that talk severely undermines really fine musicianship.So that’s the dig on Ocote Soul Sound, an effortlessly talented seven-man collective led by our little talker himself, the well-loved TV on the Radio collaborator and Antibalas founder Martín Perna. While his flute playing was practically flawless, and the always-chill songs progressed smoothly and seamlessly, what got old really fast was his maddening need to spout enviro-love and anti-fencehood to a predominantly left-wing crowd that had heard such platitudes a million times before.

And that’s a shame, because the band’s Latin-infused jams are really quite good. Using a full range of instruments and rhythm-melting techniques, the amazingly relaxed band—at ease on the stage, always professional, and with no need for a pulpit—pulled off fine renditions of songs from their 2006 album El Niño y El Sol. If only those songs had been all we’d heard, well, that would have been nice.

Concert Review: Explosions in the Sky

If you love guitar, you love Explosions in the Sky, what with their six-strings crashing against each other in sound and swell and interlocking melody and a whole heap of testosterone. They’ve done well for themselves with this approach, having released their fourth LP earlier this year, and certainly, the Friday Night Lights gig has helped, giving them not only a ready-made national audience, but also a venue for their more-sensitive and soft material.

But Saturday night at Waterloo Park was no place for sensitive material. Without a need to rest vocal chords, Explosions in the Sky rocked relentlessly with crescendo-driven songs designed to inspire antsiness. Undoubtedly, the spider-fingered sometimes-bassist and spaceman guitarists, backed by a powerful drum presence, executed the Explosions in the Sky formula perfectly.But this is where the trouble arises—there is a formula of sorts at work here. Over the course of their career, the band has become more technically proficient, more gifted at playing off each other with absolute precision, more diverse in regards to soft songs versus hard songs…yet still seems to have fallen into a pattern where dynamism has been replaced by old reliable. After all, everyone kind of knows what to expect from Explosions in the Sky, right?

This predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the band is still capable of churning out beautifully-constructed post-rock anthems worthy of shaking your speakers straight down the stairs. And when it comes to a live show—regardless of all the critical mumbo-jumbo—there’s no question that they still rock about as hard as anyone. And we in Austin love that sort of thing, especially from our hometown sons, right?

[photo courtesy of Keith Gaddis]

Concert Review: MGMT

MGMT pleased an appreciative crowd for perhaps the shortest set of the weekend, as a delayed start gave their ’70s disco-influenced pop rock only twenty-five minutes to work its magic. Playing a brief mix of songs from their debut LP, the band managed to make its presence known despite the time constraints, as they showed no fear of vocal harmonizing and setting a solid beat. Not even their own audiophilic tendencies and general unattractiveness could hold back their rhythm driven sound.

The sometimes embarrassing cheesiness of their lyrics was less a presence live than on the album, as their wannabe rockstar declarations didn’t have enough time to sink in, which is definitely a good thing. But MGMT has plenty of potential, and it’s a shame they weren’t given long enough to show what all they have in their musical arsenal. At least—when they were told they had to stop playing—the crowd voiced its displeasure loud enough to make it obvious that their short-lived set was a good one.

Concert Review: Final Fantasy

Multi-tasking like a fiend, Owen Pallett attempted a true-to-life rendition of his many-layered recorded material all by his lonesome, and the reward was a show that started slow but ended spectacularly. Without the aid of the dozen-plus hands (his own many times over, as well as those of others) that help in the studio, songs from Final Fantasy’s two LPs became tangled messes wherein Pallett frantically tried to do the songs justice without trimming them down for solo performance. The effect was a compromise of Pallett’s pleasant stage presence, and a somewhat uninspired beginning saved by a surprising final fifteen minutes.The muted enthusiasm of his performance’s first half elicited many of the same complaints that can be heard about fellow violinist Andrew Bird’s live shows—too many loops and not enough just letting loose and working with what you’ve got. Despite this complaint, the ambition was impressive, and Pallett’s individual talent and vision were unquestionably on display, even if he at times appeared slightly overwhelmed by daunting tasks of his own creation.

But then there’s that final fifteen minutes, which amplified the combined energy of the rest of the set and made the performance as a whole one of the more memorable of Fun Fun Fun Fest: Pallett’s sheepish cover of Destroyer, followed by apparently-intoxicated Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar’s coming on stage to stumble through an energetic repeat of the same song, followed by Pallett’s stirring is-it-ironic-or-is-it-not rendition of Mariah Carey’s mid-nineties show-stopper “Fantasy.” By the time Pallett—looking like a love-struck and deranged Edward Norton—sang “sweet, sweet fantasy, baby” for the last time, it was clear that this musician-on-the-rise has a lot of future left in him, and maybe someday will find a band worth helping him wade through it.

[photo courtesy of Eric Uhlir]