Snail Mail at Starline Social Club – June 27, 2018

Snail Mail at Starline Social Club

Snail Mail at Starline Social Club

The Rock and Roll show is sacred space. All is sacred.

I apologize, dear readers, for the large gaps in my scintillating concert reviews, as well as my inability to get my thoughts down on paper while the memory of the show is still fresh. Nevertheless, I am committed to writing a review of every show I attend. Perhaps it can be made a kind of virtue, I mean, I remember concerts that I saw years and decades ago – not in detail to be sure – but I remember the impact the performance had on me.

I was really excited about seeing Snail Mail, to be sure. I feel a little sheepish about jumping on the bandwagon of the NYT and everybody gushing over this HS senior with her wise-beyond-her-years persona and her virtuoso guitar-playing. But holy fuck Lindsey Jordan is super talented and intelligent, and who doesn’t want to see this prodigy in the early phase of what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career?

First band was Club Night from Oakland. They were a noisy prog rock outfit. Their music was intense and at times unsettling, but I thought they were talented and played with conviction. My notes ‘intense … King Crimson-esque … tapping … many notes.’ The lead guitar player was quite talented, and although they weren’t exactly my cup of tea I appreciated them.

Next up were folk rockers Bonny Doon. (The members have not actually been to Bonny Doon, which is near where I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains.) The members got ready to play their set – drums, and two guitar players. A short blond woman stepped onto the stage and grinned at the audience – the bass player. I thought to myself ‘she looks a lot like Lindsey Jordan’ but I thought it was just a coincidence. However, it became obvious after the fact that Lindsey Jordan was in fact filling in on bass and backup vox with Bonny Doon, which was cool. Everybody had French braids (except the drummer), which was also cool.

Alex and I both like Bonny Doon’s set. They had a kind of country rock, Americana sound – a sort of comfortable, breezy and strummy feel that was easy to relate to. They had a warm stage presence and it was a totally enjoyable set.

And then it was time for Snail Mail. I had been looking forward to this show for a long time, and Snail Mail did not disappoint. Lindsey returned to the stage having traded in the bass in for her usual Jaguar (?) 6-string. She had a confident and kind of brash presence – I guess she must be used to performing for people who are older than her. There was a noisy intro which segued into Heat Wave off her new album Lush and the set was underway.

I guess people have been talking about her singing, and for good reason. I mean, Lindsey’s guitar-playing is kind of the gateway drug with Snail Mail, but Lindsey writes great songs, and she sings them with 110% conviction. There a very raw quality in her voice, like it’s beaming right from her soul. And you can understanding every fucking word which is bonus. 

The only qualm I have about Snail Mail is that they don’t really seem like a band. Lindsey is very clear that Snail Mail is her project. The other musicians seem very much the side men. Although they were all excellent musicians the drummer is the only one that seems to have any chemistry with Jordan. I guess maybe that’s just what works best for her, but I fantasize about a future version where Lindsey finds true collaborators.

But what the fuck, Jordan is on fire and it’s a joy to watch her perform! I love her guitar playing – there’s a really assertive quality about – jangly, ringing, and totally inventive. The songs are interesting, too. There were barn burners like Pristine and Static buzz, along with hauntingly pretty numbers like Let’s Find an Out. Before the encore she played two solo numbers that were super pretty.
Anyway, the set list I captured was:

  • Intro
  • Heat Wave
  • Dirt
  • Slug
  • “I’m not yours” “wasted”
  • Thinning
  • Let’s Find an Out
  • Full Control
  • Pristine
  • idk “someone like you”
  • Anytime (solo)
  • Cover song from Juno (solo)
  • Static Buzz [encore] 
Club Night at Starline Social Club

Club Night at Starline Social Club

Bonny Doon at Starline Social Club

Bonny Doon at Starline Social Club

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Speedy Ortiz at the Starline Social Club – June 9, 2018

Here is my review of a show I saw back in June. First band is Winter, led by bubbly Brazilian American Samira Winter. She is wearing a sparkly clingy top, a tie dye skirt and is playing a paisley strat. I really liked this band – they had a great psychedelic, shoegaze kind of sound. The songs were good, and had some landscape to them, as our old friend Michael Leary used to say. They are having a good time, and I would be happy to see this band again anytime. I sprang for their cassette Ethereality which I have been enjoying.

YouTube in its wisdom has decided I should be interested in Anna Burch, who is second on the bill. Her new video keeps popping up in my suggestions. I did watch the video for Tea Soaked Letter, which I thought was nicely produced, but kind of basic really. On stage Anna and band are all kind of awkward in a sweet way. My favorite song is Asking 4 a Friend, which she said was a song about “dating your drug dealer.” It’s a little grittier and more “Detroit” than some of the prettier stuff. They are having a good time. The bass player is a doll and has a big smile on her face for the entire show.

The club, which is not very big is not sold out for Speedy Ortiz, but it’s pretty darned full. They are playing Stereolab in between sets, which makes me happy. This was my fifth Speedy Ortiz show, which is a lot for me.

When people ask me about Speedy Ortiz – in my imaginary life where people talk to me about bands I like – I hear myself telling people that Speedy Ortiz are really really good, but I tend to prefer bands that are more emotionally raw. And I guess in a way it’s true my jam is bands that are a little more “unhinged” like Skating Polly or Joanna Gruesome. But having said that about Speedy’s comparative restraint, I have come to appreciate that the feelings informing Sadie’s compositions are quite powerful indeed. I think it may have taken me all these years of listening to their music to fully appreciate that. Anyway, I just want to say that there are strong emotions in Speedy Ortiz’ music, even if there are no visible scars.

Of the five Speedy Ortiz performances I have seen so far this was the overall best and most rocking one I’ve attended. Sadie’s clear voice had a little edge of hoarseness, which lent some additional grit. Backing vocals by bassist Audrey Zee Whitesides and drummer Mike Falcone were also excellent. I am a huge fan of Falcone’s drumming and the distracted professorial energy he brings. The band is really in sync and playing well together. Many of the songs are full-on raging, from opener Buck Me Off, Plough off of Major Arcana, and Ginger from Foil Deer, among others.

The set ended with crowd-pleasers Tiger Tank and No Below. Apparently No Below was featured in a video game. Sadie was sure half the audience was here for that song, but we were all clueless. She said “we’re not going to come back for an encore, so this is it” and launched into one I didn’t recognize, but it was great and had something to do with ‘too many boyfriends.’ Later I searched the lyrics and realized it was Taylor Swift from way back in 2012 (see video above!). Here’s the whole set list, as best as I could make it out:

1. Buck Me Off
2. Lean In When I Suffer
3. Lucky 88
4. Raising the Skate
5. Can I kiss You
6. Plough
7. Villain
8. The Graduates
9. Ginger
10. Drk Wrld
11. I’m Blessed
12. Moving In
13. Tiger Tank
14. No Below
15. Taylor Swift

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Yo La Tengo at the Fillmore – June 5, 2018

Yo La Tengo at the Fillmore

Yo La Tengo at the Fillmore

Since starting this blog, I’ve felt an increased desire to fill in some of the many huge gaps in my rock and roll knowledge. Like anyone, I tend to listen to what I listen to, so to speak, and add new discoveries based on stuff I find on the internet, bands that are touring with another band I like, and so on. Occasionally I’ll get turned on to a band that has been around for a really long time and making really awesome music and I’m late to the party. In the case of Yo La Tengo, I’m something like 35 years late to the party. But better late than never!

I had been aware of the existence of a band called Yo La Tengo for some time, but had never listened to them. At some point, for reasons I know longer remember, I added Today is the Day to my YouTube “Watch Later” playlist, and possibly even listened to it. More recently, one or two YLT songs popped up in my Spotify playlist radio. More time went by, and then many months ago I saw that they were coming to the Fillmore in June. I bought tickets.

I knew that if I was going to get the most out of the show, I should try to familiarize myself with their music. This is a rather daunting task, given their countless albums, and well known reputation for drawing upon an immense catalog of obscure covers during their performances. So I did what I could. I will say Spotify has a pretty terrific playlist of 50 essential YLT songs which I listened a number of times…

The day of the show arrived, and I motored up to SF from the South Bay, and parked at the Japan Center lot. I arrived well before the doors, so I walked up Fillmore St. and bought a cup of coffee. I strolled for a few more minutes, then made my way to the venue. Much to my surprise, I was 1st in line to the show, which hasn’t happened in a long time. The next two guys to show up were long time fans, with many YLT shows under their belts. My buddy Alex showed up after a while (Alex knew virtually nothing about YLT). Thanks to our early arrival time, we sailed through security, said ‘hi’ to top hat girl and grabbed a couple of apples on our way up to the balcony. We scored the most advantageous table in the balcony that was not reserved, which is where we spent the whole show.

The YLT lineup, which has remained more or less the same since 1992, consists of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew. They are all multi instrumentalists, but Georgia mostly plays drums and sings, Ira plays guitar and sings, and James plays keyboards, electric and upright bass, and guitar. James did sing in a reedy tenor on several songs, as well. They moved through their instrument and song changes as if following an inner choreography which was almost as fun to watch as it was to listen to. And yet they are completely unpretentious, which I think is one of the most refreshing things about this band.

Musically there is so much to listen to. There were trippy space jams, sweet love songs, beautiful harmonies and chaotic, lengthy feedback fests. I can see how each YLT concert would be a unique moment in time that they are creating with reverence and bravado understatement.

Overall there is a genuine sweetness in YLT’s music. There is an intensity, too, in some of the noisier jams, but I think the warmth and sweetness of this trio is the over-arching feeling. Most of their songs are love songs – usually about loss or unrequited love. There are a smattering of numbers about random things – baseball, motorcycles, movies, etc. There are no songs about politics which I find interesting. The complete lack of reference to the state of the world, oppression, etc., seems remarkable, and it seems like a conscious decision. It means YLT space is maybe a place of refuge from that aspect of reality.

The first set consisted of 10 songs, and they were mostly slow and sweet. The second set, consisting of another 10 songs, was considerably more raucous, with many extended noisy solos. For the encore they brought out Calexico, fresh from their performance at GAMH. Calexico is a Tex-Mex band and they contributed a horn section and accordion to the instrumentation. There were 3 songs in the encore, ending with Comin’ Back to Me by Jefferson Airplane (one I actually recognize).

I stopped at the merch booth and picked up Extra Painful on vinyl for the heart-stopping price of $40. This is the “Limited deluxe 21st-Anniversary edition of the 1993 classic Painful” with 10 unreleased tracks, etc. If your a YLT noob like me, I can recommend this as a good starting point, as well as 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, which Stereogum (and many others) recommend as “the pinnacle in the story of Yo La Tengo”.

So what are you waiting for? How will you discover some new, or “new to you” music today?

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