Thursday, December 16, 2004

Musical interlude

Saw the Pixies in concert last night, part of their 8-night run at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC.
The warm-up act was Le Tigre, who left me wishing we had gone the night before and seen Broken Social Scene. Le Tigre has this dance punk feminist thing going, very earnest in a 20-year old way (even if they are older), and they definitely appeared to be nice people. But as they largely relied on pre-recorded backing tracks that were not especially compelling, and as their words and vocal performance didn't add much, all I could think of was Ashlee Simpson. I guess Ashlee is the other way around (live band, canned vocals), but the level of creativity is comparable. Le Tigre was to a degree fun, but I had the sense they should be trying to win their dorm's talent show before they hit the main stage.
If any Le Tigre fans read this, which may be a long shot, I imagine I will hear from them.
The Pixies were pretty much all business (bills to pay?). They muffed a couple of arrangements, but were fantastic anyway. Their playlist is just exceptionally strong; hardly anyone since the Beatles could match it. They played almost everything from Doolittle and Surfer Rosa, obviously knowing where their best work is, and well-chosen scatterings from the rest. I do wish they had played Bam Thwok. One of the best concerts I've seen because the material is just so outstanding and they were generally up to playing it well.
While we're at it, my 2004 album of the year pick is Brian Wilson's Smile. True, the performance, while highly professional and skilled, has at times that generic "Beatlemania" quality to it. But the material is too good for this to matter much.
And my two picks for overrated are Franz Ferdinand (catchy but limited; once through the 80s was enough for me) and Arcade Fire (maybe I will come around, but for now they just seem too histrionic). Among the new releases I liked better were Blonde Redhead, Fiery Furnaces, Elliott Smith, A.C. Newman, Wilco, and Modest Mouse.

104 comments:

Anonymous said...

I envy you for getting to see them live.
Did they do the Warren Zevon cover? ("Ain't That Pretty At All").
As for Le Tigre: lots of vocals-oriented acts (like most hiphop) use recorded backings, since the focus is on the singers or rappers anyway. So I don't find that objectionable per se. The problem I have with Le Tigre is that their dance rhythms are so lame. Whatever you think of the lyrics and sexual politics of Britney Spears, her music is just far more interesting as music than Le Tigre's music is.

Steve

Daniel Shaviro said...

They didn't do the Zevon cover. Agreed on Le Tigre; if they had been a good rap act, the vocals would have added enough for the lack of live backing tracks not to matter. But neither the words nor the vocal performance were enough to hold the spotlight.

Anonymous said...

I saw the Pixies in late September at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California. They were great but certainly as you pointed out all business: the songs were played note for note as they are on the albums (except of course for the slowed down version of “Wave…” and “Vamos” where Joey Santiago got all Nigel from “Spinal Tap” during the mid-section) and every possible type of Pixies devotee was catered to (the hits from “Doolittle” and “Surfer” for the standard fan, “Ed is Dead” for the archivist-music-nerd-snob, “In Heaven” for the Goth film student, a couple of killer tunes from “Bossa Nova” and “Trompe Le Monde” for the contrarian, etc.). A terrific experience in a terrific venue with a terrific crowd that was as multi-faceted as I’ll ever see at a show, but not without a light touch of gloom for me, seeing the Pixies now on their own “Steel Wheels” tour. I had the good fortune of a) growing up in Boston and b) being extremely precocious in my music tastes. I remember getting the first and only release at the time, “Come on Pilgrim”, on cassette and beginning my own relationship with the now legendary string of releases, and I got to see them a number of times around town. Back then, Black Francis was just a little bit husky and had a full head of hair and they had a wonderful scrappiness and irreverance about their live shows that the current musical icons understandably lack today. I suppose all this amounts to seeing the nostalgia industry set up shop around something that once was an active part of my own slice of youth culture – despite my own illusions about being still an active, current participant in it. By the way, I’ve actually heard from people who knew her in Portland before she became famous that Kathleen Hanna, despite being quite pretty, is not nice at all (lead singer of Le Tigre).

I’ve been listening to Franz Ferdinand since 2002, even seeing them in a thinly packed North Six at Williamsburg, and I enjoyed their debut. Overrated? I don’t know. Perhaps over-exposed, though I’d like to think the surfeit of attention they’re getting means that the mainstream every now and then can embrace something of genuine quality. Sure they have echoes of Blondie and Pulp – I’m guessing this is the source of your complaint that they take you back to an era you’d rather forget – but isn’t that part of the deal you make when you’re an avid listener of contemporary pop (which it appears you are): you accept that the genre has a limited number of ideas, and that the nature of the genre is simply recombinations of them in search of once in a while the transcendent but usually the fleetingly entertaining?

I have to disagree with you on “Funeral” by the Arcade Fire. Now before I make a case for them I’ll say a few things to prove my resistance to the ether that sometime emanates from critical darlings. First, I don’t think they are a band with much of a future – despite a terrific debut. Too many of their songs (actually maybe all) rely on a slow, tense build up towards crescendo and release, a common device that the AF improve on with perhaps rich instrumentation reminiscent of the Elephant Six bands but more polished. How much mileage they can get out of writing songs structured this way, I’m not sure. Second, I’m usually one with a bias towards the slightly inaccessible. I’m the type to put on a Lightning Bolt record at a party and pretend to not understand people’s less than pleased reactions. That said, “Funeral” is such a darn easy album to enjoy that I’ve been looking for reasons to dislike it and I seem to overlook it consciously when I pick out albums to listen to. But dismiss it on the grounds of being histrionic? The only time it even comes close to sounding that way is the last song where Win Butler sounds Cat Power-ish but it still makes for a fine closer. At this point, a debate on its merits should probably be saved for another time. They are superb live, probably better than the Pixies in their prime.

My very tentative first stab at best albums of 2004 (if you care): “Palm Fronds” by the Double and “Blueberry Boat” by the Fiery Furnaces which to me are unquestionably terrific as well as original. Best song (and video) of the year: “Little house of Savages” by the Walkmen. All your selections seem fine – maybe I’ll comment on them later, though I have this terrible prejudice against Blonde Redhead since I asked out one of the Pace twin’s ex-longtime girlfriend after he dumped her and she said no. I should get over it.

Shawmir

Daniel Shaviro said...

Thanks, Shawmir. Interesting comments. I got to see the NYC punk scene, including Blondie (whose first album I love), in the late 1970s but I have often missed having my finger on the pulse since. I am about to head out for the weekend, but will aim to respond more via a comment here when I get back.

Daniel Shaviro said...

On my two pans, no intention to score points by going against the most talked about bands. But I do find Franz Ferdinand a little bit irritating and not all that interesting, maybe a bit smug. And what I meant about Arcade Fire was that I found the constant reaching for emotional crescendos a bit offputting. Maybe the same point as yours about song structure. I certainly didn't mind the emo quality, if you want to call it that, of the Wrens' Meadowlands, which would be my pick for #1 of 2003.
Haven't heard of the Doubles, though I found the Pitchfork review. Pixies do seem to have done exactly the same show in NYC as in Berkeley, reinforcing your point that it's their Steel Wheels tour, but at least all the songs are good. (The Stones on Steel Wheels presumably lacked the good sense to stick exclusively to 1965-72 plus 1978).

Anonymous said...

I’m in complete agreement on two things you just wrote. The Stones should have stuck exclusively to those years. And “Meadowlands” was without a doubt one of the best records of 2003, along with “Sad Song for Dirty Lovers” by the National and “Greetings from Michigan” by Sufjan Stevens. Certainly the one I listened to the most. “Holland” from “Greetings…” was my favorite song of ’03, a quiet little tune that successfully recreates the experience of snuggling under the covers to ward off the chill coming in from Lake Michigan.

While we’re on the subject of blockbuster reunion tours, did you pick up Slint tickets last Friday? Do you like Slint? I did - and paid quite a bit for them, making me seriously reconsider why I even bothered. Maybe I got swept up in the excitement over their reforming. I like Slint just fine but I'm a bit puzzled at this pre-Pixies tour-like anticipation. "Spiderland" is not an easy record to love, unlike "Surfer Rosa" or "Doolittle". You read Pitchfork so maybe you know what I'm talking about.

Shawmir

Daniel Shaviro said...

Slint is still on my to-do list, as in "I should check out their music at some point."

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Then a friend of mine recommended a site called www.bargainplace.co.uk. We were able to get cheaper electricity, gas, mobile phone, broadband and loan deals at bargainplace. Thanks to my friend (and the site) I am saving something like £100 a month and can afford an extra holiday abroard each year. Booked of course on www.bargainplace.co.uk. Thanks bargainplace ;-) !!

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