I was a fan of Imelda May‘s last album, 2010’s Mayhem. I’m using fan in a pretty casual sense there because I liked it and listened to it a number of times, but it wasn’t on any of my top lists or anything. Mayhem was a fun record to hang out with for a while, kinda like other peoples kids. Her new record, Tribal, has a bit more staying power.
The Irish singer is one of the few people making rockabilly music that hasn’t been saturated by this weird combination of honkytonk and ska(surely we can’t put all the blame on Brian Setzer) that’s permeated the genre. Along with guitarist/husband Darrel Higham and the rest of a fantastic band, May stays true to the principles that have made rockabilly great for the past 60 years.
The star of the show, as always, is her voice. She can go from big and brassy to soft and sultry in the snap of a finger, combining arena-rocker vocal theatrics with the chill vibe of a lounge singer. The brash, punk-leaning screams on “Hellfire Club” contrasting nicely with the whispered purrs of “Wicked Ways.”
Some of the lyrical content is a bit trite for my liking. May is at her best when she’s having fun, and parts of Tribal are a bit too focused on domestication and settling down. It’s still a fun record, but tracks like “Round The Bend” and “Little Pixie” (a take on “Sea Of Love”) could have been left off and the album would pack a more efficient punch.
That said, Tribal is a thoroughly enjoyable listen and rewards multiple spins. Released in April in the UK, it will finally be available here in the States on July 29th.
Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends are the best rock and roll band working today. If you don’t agree I’m guessing it’s for one of the following reasons: a) You’ve never listened to them, or b) You’re in a band and think that you’re the best band working today (you’re not). Over the past couple years Furman and his band have created two of the best records to see a release, and the live show they put on is always extraordinary.
Last night they played in their favorite venue, Space. A return home for the Evanston natives after a long stint in Europe. They played two sets with no opener and covered a lot of ground in the Furman songbook. They even played a track recorded for Day Of The Dog that they decided not to use on the album. It’s actually a really good tune that has lines like “It’s good to be drunk on the weekend, but it’s better to be drunk all week” and “I have a bright future in music as long as I don’t find true happiness.”
The first set was shorter, maybe a half hour or so that started off with “I Wanna Destroy Myself” and included a cover of Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town classic “Promised Land.” They also covered Paul Baribeau’s “The Mall,” which features on Day Of The Dog.
The band seemed to be having fun and looked good on stage. Ezra came out in his Buddy Holly attire (minus the glasses), which stood out among the plaid and leather that covered the rest of the band. The lighting was changing a lot, but most prominently a bright red shone brighter than the others, matching Ezra’s nail polish and lipstick-and for the second set his red dress.
There wasn’t too much time in between sets. Just enough for me to look through my photos quickly and delete the ones that were too soft or blurry. It couldn’t have been ten minutes before they were back up there ready to get the second, much longer set going.
Part 2 was a lot heavier on Year Of No Returning, which I was happy about. Starting with “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” and also hitting “American Soil” and “Queen Of Hearts” alongside newer cuts like “Cold Hands” and the single “My Zero.” Ezra seemed more comfortable during the second half (well, comfortable for Ezra), and the whole thing felt a bit more loose and spontaneous.
The banter was often just Ezra being happy to be home and gracious to all his friends and family in the crowd, talking about feeling alone and how sometimes he hates traveling around to play music (but not the playing music part). He’s always struck me as a very sweet person with some seriously dark thoughts that he writes down and sings about. On this night, he was almost jolly, happy to be back among those he loves.
The encore was a blazing version of “Take Off Your Sunglasses” with the band and as they walked off stage it looked like Ezra was thinking of following and then grabbed his guitar for a solo song. That ended up being one of my favorite songs of the last decade “Don’t Turn Your Back On Love.” He played it beautifully and as the final notes of guitar were being strummed he leaned into the mic and said “Let’s call that a concert.”
The newly renovated Thalia Hall located in the Pilsen neighborhood is a spacious, beautiful venue that feels more intimate than it’s size would make you think. It was the first time I had made it out to the space, and it lived up to all the good things I’d been hearing over the past couple months. Making the night even better was the fact that Camera Obscura would shortly be on stage-a group I’ve been trying to see for years but always seem to miss.
Laura Cantrell opened the evening with an all-acoustic set featuring songs from her Kitty Welles album as well as her new album of originals (including “Glass Armor,” co-written by Tracyanne Campbell). She was joined by Mark Spencer on guitar and Jimmy Ryan on mandolin. I was fascinated by the nimble-fingered Ryan, his hands like a white tornado surrounding a small stringed instrument.
Camera Obscura hit the stage promptly at 10pm and started things off with “Break It To You Gently.” It was the first of many tracks from Desire Lines to be played-about half the night was newer material broken up by “French Navy,” “Lloyd I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken,” and a beautiful version of Underachievers Please Try Harder tune “Books Written For Girls.”
Tracyanne Campbell was feeling a bit under the weather, at one point calling for throat lozenges to be tossed up to the stage. It didn’t seem to effect her too much, as her voice rang true on every note. I could listen to her sing for days, but sadly the show came to an end after the customary three-song encore.
The band is really tight, which is a good thing for the most part. The downside is that all the songs essentially sound the same as they do on record, with no variation to speak of. The music of Camera Obscura is gorgeous, so even without anything new going on, the songs are all great anyway.
It was a lovely night with two great sets of music. The only downfall, and it’s a small nitpick, is that the acoustics in the venue make a small conversation in the back of the hall sound like a loud roar up front. Throughout most of Cantrell’s set all I could hear was white noise. A similar phenomenon happens at Logan Square Auditorium, where you can hear the people at the bar talking over the people playing in front of you. A small inconvenience given how nice Thalia Hall is.
I’ve been pretty busy the past couple weeks and haven’t been able to post everything that was sent to me. Here’s a bunch of videos I’ve received over the past month or so. Most of them are really good. Some are silly and fun.
Rise Against-I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore
David Paige-Are You Ready?
Curious Quail-Yesterday I Watched The World End
the bird and the bee-Undone
Glass Animals-Love Lockdown
The Tins-They Aren’t Evil
I don’t know why, but literally the only person I know for sure is playing Lollapalooza is Lorde. I remember being excited to hear who the headliners were going to be, but as soon as it came out, I forgot. This has been a growing trend in my relationship with the festival-it’s the biggest show in town and the one I care the least about. Lollapalooza is THE festival for people from Chicago and the surrounding areas who only want to go to one concert a year. Three-day passes sold out in record time once again, which means next year we’ll get more of the same seemingly every-other-year headliners (The Killers aren’t playing this year so they’ll for sure be there in 2015, or maybe Brandon Flowers solo).
Here’s my experience from the one year I actually went. Drove up from Indiana, paid $30 to park, saw Ben Folds and The Decemberists (they played Hazards Of Love in its entirety), then left because it was raining. Bought three-day passes but skipped Saturday because Beastie Boys had to cancel and I’d already seen YYY’s. Showed up Sunday and got my nose broken ten minutes in to the day. Then didn’t see a doctor about it for a couple days because I didn’t want to miss Band Of Horses and the aforementioned Killers. So yeah, I got a pretty healthy dose of Lollapalooza in my short time there.
I saw the most drunk person I’ve ever seen in my life at 5:30pm on the Friday I went, which means he had to have imbibed a lot of those $8 beers in a very short period. It took me half an hour to get from the Bud Light stage to Chow Town to get something to eat and drink and back, during which time I had to muscle my way through about 20,000 bros in tank tops and sideways hats (only a few with aviators, probably because it was cloudy). Totally money well spent.
So who is playing this year? You can look it up yourself, but I’ll give you a few highlights: Headliners are Eminem (wtf?), Arctic Monkeys (okkkkkkk……), Outkast (reuniting to only play festivals and you can basically see them counting the money while they’re on stage), Kings Of Leon (HEY! They headlined the year I went!), Skrillex (and his haircut!), and Calvin Harris (props I would totally see Calvin Harris). So two rap acts, two rock bands (one on the way up and one on the wrong side of their career that started going downhill about a week after Youth & Young Manhood came out), and two DJ’s.
The undercard does have some appealing acts. Run The Jewels and Childish Gambino are both playing and I’d see either of them over the two hip-hop headliners. Jenny Lewis is back with a new record and she’s playing one day, but she’s also playing an aftershow at Park West, which is a much more suitable venue than an open field. Benjamin Booker will be there, but a lot of Chicagoans will have two chances to see him this week opening for Jack White, plus he just played a free show at The Empty Bottle and a show at SPACE in Evanston, so whatever-he’s really good, though. Iggy Azalea will be playing, which pretty much makes me want to kill myself. Plus she won’t have Charli XCX with her, so, like, what’s the point?
I count 24 bands or solo acts in the lineup that I’ve never heard of, so that’s good I think. Airborne Toxic Event is back, and that’s who was playing when I broke my nose. Fond memories there. Cage The Elephant is also back, and from what I remember the set they delivered when I went was the most buzzed about. That was right when “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” was out and no one really knew what to expect. They’re a much better band now than they were then, so I assume they’ll put on something spectacular during their set at 5 in the afternoon or whenever they’re playing.
After hitting two big summer festivals already this summer, I can tell you that I’m happy to not be going to Lollapalooza again. The bands don’t justify the price, the people at the fest are generally a pain to put up with, and it’s probably going to be in the 90’s the whole time. After a wonderful experience up at TURF in Toronto, and a better than expected Pitchfork, I wonder if the world really needs Lollapalooza anymore.
Back on April 19th I was a man on a mission. Record Store Day tends to bring out the primal brutality of humanity, so I made sure I was prepared with my list and a “stay out of my way” mentality. I had a short list this year: the Conor Oberst/Dawes split 7″, Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet, R.E.M. Unplugged, Springsteen’s American Beauty, and Camera Obscura’s 4AD Sessions. I ended up getting 4 out of 5, with the jerk in front of me grabbing the last Unplugged copy at the Reckless Records on Madison. I got home and immediately threw on the first record and listened to everything I’d bought. The Camera Obscura record stood out from the first song (of four), and it is definitely the one I can spin again and again without getting tired of it.
Recorded at Tron Theatre in Glasgow, it’s a live recording of four of the best tracks from their latest full-length, Desire Lines (#14 on my top 50 albums of 2013). The recording puts Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals way out front, which is exactly where they belong. The sessions took place right after the album was released, so the band was still super tight after their time in the studio. Kenny McKeeve’s guitar on “Every Weekday” is especially impressive as it shimmies and shakes all over the place, bouncing off Gavin Dunbar’s bass like a super ball.
My favorite track is the closer, “Fifth In Line To The Throne.” It feels a little less downtrodden in this live recording, Campbell’s voice effortlessly sailing through the calm wave of sound on the line “you treat me like a queen, but like a queen I don’t know when I’ll be slain.”
The band will be here in Chicago this Friday night, July 25th, at Thalia Hall with Laura Cantrell. Tickets are still available here.
Now that it’s all over, how was the festival? It was a lot of fun and we saw a ton of great bands over the three days we were there, that’s for sure. But some were definitely better than others, so here are my top 10 sets at Pitchfork 2014, followed by my bottom 3. (We haven’t had time to go through all the pictures yet, but when we have time I’ll add some here for the bands missing shots-except Neutral Milk Hotel, who don’t allow photography)
10. Dum Dum Girls
7. Neneh Cherry
6. Pusha T
5. Neutral Milk Hotel
4. Schoolboy Q
2. St Vincent
In no particular order: Grimes, Slowdive, the kids that tried to jump the fence and knocked over a port-a-potty while someone was using it. They were quickly arrested.