Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Near Decathlon of Live Music

I go to a lot of shows.

More than most, less than some.

But never have I had this many of my favorite bands play back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back like I did these past 2 weeks.

9 shows in 11 nights.

2 in NYC, the rest in Philly.

Only 1 was a why-the-hell-not show.  The rest all featured an artists whose music means the world to me and I see every chance I get.

And they kept slotting into my calendar perfectly, like Tetris if it were designed by Bill Graham, rather than some drunken Russkie.

This is their story.


1. Tuesday, October 19th: Two Cow Garage @Mojo on Main, Newark, DE

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’re probably sick of me pimping these guys. They’re my favorite band that no one’s seen.  They write poetic songs sung with insistent, raspy vocals, giving it a Jason & The Scorchers drinking with the Replacements vibe.

Someone needs to tell me how a band capable of writing a wondrous mixed message of a song like “No Shame” isn’t at least filling small clubs.  The lyrics are all about someone ready to quit rock & roll and get a normal job.  He’s telling himself that there’s no shame in walking away from a fruitless pursuit of fame and fortune. But this is not a mournful tune.  It’s filled to the top with piss & vinegar. The song's protagonist never reveals his decision. But like the band who sings it, I don’t think he’s quitting any time soon.  At least I hope not.



Honestly, I couldn’t blame them if they did. I’ve never seen them play to more than 10-15 people.  Of course they still call down the thunder even with the sparse crowds. God help us all if they get a following.  They’re like Pol Pot in the early 60s.

I was heartened to see a full room at Mojo (formerly the East End) when I arrived in the middle of the proactively terrible second band’s set. As it turned out, most of those people were friends of the earlier acts. By the time TCG played, they were down to their usual dozen, and I think several of them were actually members of the earlier acts.

Sigh.  But the show still rocked, and I realized that the lead singer’s mannerisms and singing style reminded me of a young Elvis Costello. The set also included a cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait”.  This is from an earlier show, but you get the drift:



2. Wednesday, October 20th: Greg Dulli @Johnny Brenda’s, Philly

There are 2 bands that I would donate large amounts of bone marrow to ensure that they reunite and resume blowing my mind. 

One is Sleater-Kinney (see way below).

The other is The Afghan Whigs.

Despite all my friends’ opinions and legions of unsatisfied women, I am not gay.  I would, however, go gay in a Five Hour Energy heartbeat for Mr. Greg Dulli.

He oozes charisma like really sick people ooze pus. 

His yowl comes from a bad part of Hell’s Basement, where all the hot demons make out

He’s also funny as hell.  After some early “whoo”s directed towards him: “I know, right? I see this every morning when I brush my teeth.”

But he saved the better portion of his wit for this girl at the front of the stage who was so excited that she screamed like the lead in a 1950s horror movie. 


At first it was kinda charming, then like most female sounds, it got annoying after a while.

About halfway through the show, him and his guitarist just started roasting her Jeff Ross-style:


Dulli: "Jesus, what do you sound like when you fuck?"

Guitarist: "No one's ever lived long enough to find out."

Dulli: “I want to use your voice as my car alarm.”

Guitarist: “You would find them dead by your car with blood running from their ears.”

Dulli: “It’s strange, she can only date deaf guys. ‘Yes, we can watch “Children of a Lesser God” again.’”

That’s right.  He made a Children of a Lesser God reference.

He’s always laid claim to my crotch, but now he had my heart.  To the shrieker’s credit, she seemed to take the jabs in stride.  Maybe she just loved the attention.

An early heckler gave him shit about the Reds being out of the playoffs (Dulli’s from Cincinnati).  He seemed taken aback at first, but then proceeded to gleefully needle the crowd about the Phillies, especially after they lost Game 4 of the NLCS during the latter part of his set.  He was, of course, lustily booed. “I wasn’t going to say anything about the Phillies, but you guys started shit.”

Oh, and the actual show? Good. It was semi-acoustic, which is not the ideal Dulli venue, but it whetted my appetite for when he returns next year with the full Twilight Singers band.

You can hear a little bit of the shrieker in these clips, especially the first one which drowns out the song at times.



3. Thursday, October 21st: My Morning Jacket @Terminal 5, New York City

Are My Morning Jacket the Best Live Act going?  Possibly.

All I know is that I hadn’t seen them live for a couple of years, and my soul was worse for it. Much worse.

I caught them at Penn’s Landing a few months back, and they reaffirmed my faith in them.  As if it needed any.

I head up to New York for shows sporadically, but a midweek jaunt up there necessitates a special event.  Either it’s a band I love who is skipping Philly (they’re assholes), it’s a special event-type show (e.g. The Decemberists doing Hazards of Love in its entirety at Radio City Music Hall), or it’s Marah (i.e. I get to see fellow fans/friends/foes I don’t see too often).

This show fell into the second category.  MMJ were doing 5 nights at Terminal 5.  Each night focused on a different album (Tennessee Fire, At Dawn, It Still Moves, Z, Evil Urges).  This was an easy choice for me.  ISM is almost definitely in my Top 10 Albums of All Time, possibly even Top 5 with gusts up to Top 3.

My friend Andrea surprised me by attending the show when she had originally planned to catch some random CMJ gigs and meet up for drinks afterward.  But she generously gifted the CMJ badge she had won from some blog to a fan who would get more use out of it and got a ticket for the MMJ show that I had thought to be sold out.

We had been having an ongoing battle over whether Terminal 5 was, in her words, “a shoebox”.  I had only been there once before for Hold Steady/Drive-By Truckers, and my memory of it was that it was rather large.  Maybe I got the venue confused with Chuck Klosterman, who I saw at that show. As I arrived, I was willing to concede that it was not as large as I remembered, but wasn’t ready to deem it of shoeboxian dimensions.

The beer selection seemed limited to MGD, so I opted for a Vermont (Vodka Tonic). A small, shitty one at that. 

We made our way out to the floor, trying to get to the other side of the sold-out room.  About halfway through we quickly realized that we had found the base camp from which we would ascend Mount Jimjames.  We also realized that it would be a dry base camp since it would have taken a herculean effort to fight our way out and then back in with drinks. By far the least I’ve drunk on an overnight trip to NYC in many a year.

The show started and an unusually raucous NYC crowd soaked up every last note.  The first set was “It Still Moves” done in order, and it was proven yet again those songs were not meant to be caged in a digital prison of 1s and 0s. Ideally, they’d be played on a cliff overlooking the ocean while the world ends.  But this was an acceptable Plan B.

The second set was notable for its covers, including Dylan’s “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, The Band’s “Makes No Difference”, and the legendary Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”.  The Dylan cover worked the best.  As much as I love “Makes No Difference”, if it isn’t Rick Danko’s falsetto singing it, it ain’t breaking my heart. And the campy cover of Mr. Richie was fun, but a little bit anticlimactic way to end the evening.






4. Friday, October 22nd: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit (w/ Langhorne Slim) @The North Star Bar, Philly

The day after MMJ in NYC was a busy one.  I had taken the day off of work, so I used the opportunity to grab lunch with Brooklyn friends on the Upper East Side for lunch. I also took advantage of the time to trek up to Queens so I could look over the shoulder of an editor working on a film project of mine and give him bad advice.

By the time Friday night back in Philly rolled around, the the late nights were beginning to catch up with me.  I showed up during Langhorne Slim’s opening set and took a folded-arms, Missouri state motto attitude.  He did indeed show me, as I was pleasantly surprised by the energy he put out.

The room was pretty packed, but after Mr. Slim left the stage, he took about half of them with him.  I don’t mean that literally.  I highly doubt he took them into a series of unmarked vans and drove off to a compound which doesn’t exist on any maps for purposes nefarious or humanitarian. Because that would be weird.

I’m not a huge fan of The North Star as a venue.  Unless you’re right up front, the sightlines are terrible, the sound not much better. And because there’s no way for people to get back to the bar except to fight through the crowd, you’re dealing with people jostling you in both directions much more than at other, more open venues.

And because of Langhorne Slim’s alleged compound, the area in front of the stage opened up, and a hell of a good show commenced. The half that stayed was definitely into the show.

His vocals were muddy as hell, but every guitar lead was crystal clear. And for a change of pace, Jason was taking all of them.  Normally, I enjoy the back & forth he has with Browan Lollar, his regular and quite skilled lead guitarist.  But Lollar was on tour with Azure Ray.  So it was a rare and sweet opportunity to hear Jason’s formidable guitar work front and center.

Especially notable were a few covers (“Atlantic City”, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”) and some new songs.





5. Saturday, October 23rd: The Felice Brothers @Johnny Brenda’s, Philly

At the Newport Folk Festival earlier this year (my write-up), my friend Jarsh said of The Felice Brothers that he enjoyed their music.  But also that if you’ve seen one of their shows, you’ve seen them all.

While I can see his point, their unbridled and raucous musical joy never fail to leave me stoop-shouldered and grinning.

If Jarsh had been at this show, however, I think his opinion would have changed.

It was a dark, brooding set.  The rave-ups were much more the exception than the rule.  Songs were heavy on keys, though the undertone they added was more gloom than frivolity.

I’ve no idea whether this signals a permanent change in direction for them, or if they were just in a dark mood. As much as I love the stuff they’ve done, I’m intrigued as hell to see if this is them evolving from fun to something more nuanced.

And in a really weird scene of déjà vu (see the Dulli notes), someone in the crowd gave the band shit about the Yankees losing (they’re from upstate New York).  So of course the band responded by giving the crowd shit about NLCS Game 6 (Phils were losing at the time), asking what the score was, etc. Luckily for their safety, they didn’t pile on when word got around that the Phils lost.





6. Monday, October 25th: Marnie Stern @Kung Fu Necktie, Philly

This show was the only one I didn’t buy tickets for as soon as I heard about it.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to eschew a rare off-night during this run.  But I had kinda rested up the night before with no shows, and my friend Lindi would also be attending with her (other) friend Chris.

Wasn’t that familiar with Marnie’s stuff, but she was getting a lot of buzz.  I checked out a few YouTubes and was rather intrigued. She uses a distinct style of finger-tapping guitar that works beyond just gimmickry. Sure, it’s technically proficient, but unlike a lot of hyped Indy bands, it sounded like she brought the rock.

As I walked through the doors of the upscale scuzzy Kung Fu Necktie, I saw Marnie Stern punching the guy working the door in the arm.  Hard.  She had spunk, which I liked.

The opener was some kind of industrial band who afforded me the opportunity to learn what it would sound like to live inside a power drill.  The best thing I can say is that they were brief.

Marnie's set was impressive.  The sound wasn’t great, so her vocals kinda disappeared into the noise.  Her guitar work was impressive, and the band held my interest. Which may sound like faint praise, but given my level of familiarity with her work, it’s not.

As I tweeted that night:

I'm bad at deconstructing band math, but Marnie Stern kinda equals Zeppelin + Pixies + MUCH less annoying Yoko. I'm digging it.



7. Tuesday, October 26th: Corin Tucker Band @Bowery Ballroom, New York City

8. Thursday, October 27th: Corin Tucker Band @First Unitarian Church, Philly –

It was a dark, dark, day when Sleater-Kinney decided to take a permanent(?) hiatus a few years back.  I saw one of their last shows, and they indisputably left at the top of their game. They’re easily one of my Top 5 bands of all time, and if they ever deign to return in full force, I can see myself taking several days off of work and follow them around like some kind of mustachioed puppy.

They had many weapons in their arsenal, but one of my favorites was the piercing vibrato of Miss Corin Tucker.  It could shake you to your core in one beat and then warmly caress you the next.

As I tweeted during the NYC show:

If I could make pajamas from Corin Tucker's voice they'd be as soft & warm as flannel but simultaneously impervious to all metal implements.

So when she announced a solo album and tour, I was there with bells on.  And like a greedy trick-or-treater, I decided to double up.  I didn’t know the next time I would be able to hear her voice live again.

Corin’s first solo effort is quite good. It’s overall a lot quieter than S-K and a lot of the rough edges have been winningly smoothed over.  But don’t start playing “I Knew the Bride When She Used To Rock & Roll”, just yet.  There’s still a fierce backbone supporting the softness.

The Bowery show was weird.  Enjoyable? Yes.  Was I over the moon to be in a room with her playing again? Most definitely.  But the energy in the room was minimal, even by jaded New York show standards. As raucous as the MMJ crowd was, the Bowery audience was (I guess) reverent.  And that’s being generous.  Granted, it was a Tuesday night. But I would think that most of the people there were Sleater-Kinney fans, and S-K evoked high levels of passion from their fanbase.  That was not in evidence.

Meanwhile, back in Philly on Thursday, I was knee-deep in passion. The venue definitely helped, as a Unitarian church basement provided a level of intimacy lacking from the Bowery.  A crowd of similar size put tenfold more heart into their reactions.  And the show was better for it.  Corin seemed a lot more relaxed and into it throughout.  Especially in the encore:

  1. “Miles Away” with just her heart-rending voice and some light keys.  Both nights, this was a show-stopper. It almost made me wish she had done more of the quieter songs as stripped-down as this. The few up-tempo #s from the album worked well with the full band, but it was overkill on several of them.
  2. “Party Girl”, which I believe is an Elvis Costello cover.  To his song, she applies a torch singer’s fiery touch. Remember that scene in “A League of Their Own” where Marla Hooch sings her heart out to this nebbish guy? Well, this was a billion times better.
  3. And finally, a cover of Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life”, which is one of those covers you don’t recognize at first, and then about 45 seconds you’re all “OMG OMG OMFG!”.  Yeah, this was one of those.

One moment early on struck me hard. The way she sang the word “taste” in “Handed Love”, that was a moment I could be trapped in an endless loop to experience, and I would likely go mad.  Not from repetition, but from sheer joy.

And finally, I have to give props to Corin Tucker’s hotness. She’s one of those girls that is cute off-stage, but when she grabs the mike, straps on the guitar, and shakes her hair back and forth? In the words of Jay Sherman, HACHI-MACHI!

First is the fiery “Doubt”, followed by the 3 encore songs.  How can the same woman be responsible for the extremes of the first 2 videos? Fucking incredible.






9. Friday, October 28th: Lucero/Social Distortion @Electric Factory, Philly

And then there was 1.

Or, 2 rather.

Lucero & Social Distortion are 2 of my favorite bands who have 2 of my least favorite fan bases in one of my least-favorite venues.  So something had to give.

Lucero is a band that has definitely grown on me in recent years.  Their most recent effort, 1372 Overton Park, added some horns and variety to their sound.  They’re growing.

Social Distortion is largely coasting by on an impressive catalog.

In my mind, these 2 should be co-headlining. That was, however, not the case. It was overwhelmingly a Social D show, but as Lucero paced their way through a brief, 45-minute set, you could see little pockets of Lucero fans.

Social Distortion was solid and professional.  I particularly enjoyed the songs they played off of the criminally underrated “White Light White Heat White Trash” album. 

But my needle was pushing hard on E by the end of their main set, so I bailed before the encore.



That was one hell of a run.  Every show was interesting in its own right.  None of them were all-time favorites, but shit-eating grins still abounded.

My 2 favorites were probably the Philly Corin Tucker show and the Felice Brothers.

Will the fates conspire to ever provide me with such a run again?  Probably not.

But unless I’m dead or syphilitic, I’ll saddle up and ride again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just think...If I'd let you friggin' return that damn CD of'd never fully know the pure joy of Dulli's vocal jizz juice. You're welcome.