Archive for July, 2010

Oh Shit! – Kings of Leon Get Pooped On By Pigeons

July 29th, 2010 No comments

For those Facebook friends of mine out there, some of you are aware that many of my ‘Status Updates’ begin with the phrase “Oh Shit”. I figure that based on that phrase I am just the person to write this article.


The ticket says “Rain or Shine” but speaks nothing of pigeons, doves, or any other creature which decides to fly overhead and ruin a perfectly good rock concert. Oh, of course during the time of Jesus, Pterodactyls would grab unsuspecting individuals to their nests to feed their young.  But the idea of birds ruining a rock concert should more be in tune with the Hitchcock classic “The Birds” when they are attacking the characters, and not simply defecating on them.


The Kings of Leon, working on a plan to conquer the Stadium Rock industry pulled an “Anti-Rock” moment last Friday night when they cancelled their show after three songs because Pigeons were bombing them overhead.


One of my favorite phrases was from Kings of Leon Drummer, Nathan Followill of the “Followill Clan” later by saying on Twitter: “It was just too unsanitary”.


Unsanitary?  Well why in the hell are you pretending to be a rock and roll band if you are worried about sanitary conditions?


I mean “Sanitation” is never a big selling point in the rock business. If you are concerned about diseases and such that pigeons might be some of the more healthy items you will come across.


I am sorry but Kings of Leon should not be referred to as rock artists but new age jazz. This is something that I would expect out of Kenny G.


(Of course, this is totally Morrissey’s M.O. but lets face it, Kings of Leon are not even close to wearing Stephen Patrick’s shoes.)


Could you imagine Ozzy stopping a show because pigeons are crapping on him? Sure there might be a delay as he might start climbing the rafters to bite the head off . Johnny Lydon who was often spat upon while a member of the Sex Pistols would have probably stuck his tongue out in an effort to eat it.  Speaking to a colleague about this today, he imagined that Alice Cooper would have dissected it. Ted Nugent would have pulled a rifle onstage and shot those pigeons and cooked up squab for the encore. And I can only imagine what Led Zeppelin would have done.


The question of course that I have is whether these pigeons are in any way related to the Dave Matthews Band.  DMB decided one night in Chicago, to dump their personal excrement from their tour bus right on the Kinzie Street bridge’s metal grating only to land bullseye on a tour boat below.


This is also the thing that you don’t want to be part of your Wikipedia band page entry.  


This is the moment where you have to turn in your “Rock Badge”. It is time for a band meeting and question exactly why you are in this gig to begin with. Plus, if your music cannot scare pigeons away then maybe you are not a rock and roll band to begin with.

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Music and Data

July 28th, 2010 1 comment

Two of my favorite things in the world are “Data” and “Music”. Data is my lifeblood, my source of income. Having an understanding of it at it’s core and trying to determine what it is doing is the foundation for what I do.


From my profession to the REM Chronicle, that looked at R.E.M. concerts since it’s inception or even sorting through baseball cards, there was a certain “Context” to it all. 


Data starts with actually collecting it. The aspect of gathering and organizing it in such a manner that it actually makes some sense. Then comes the analysis. What are you expecting out of the data. Do you have theories or hypothesis that you want to check out?


My fear of course is where my two worlds collide. Analyzing the emotional context of a song for purchasing power is both fascinating and scary. While we have always focused on sorting through data, not to the level at which we have the power to do right now.


Consider your favorite record store. They might sort the records by Genre: Rock, Pop, Dance, Hip Hop, Classical, World, .etc. Pretty basic concepts that separate music into fairly simple groupings that the consumer could then go in and view their favorite section(s) of the store looking for something interesting.


Today we have iTunes, a database, in itself that allows the user to create simple queries that if their music is tagged can sort Punk Songs that contain the word ‘Riot’ from albums from 1976-1986 by bands that start with the letter C.


I made a joke years ago with a friend of mine that I wanted to rate (give stars ratings) every one of the songs that are in iTunes so that I could then create “Best Of” lists based on years, genre, girl bands, whatever my hearts desire. My eventual goal would be to have the perfect mix tapes of my favorite “5 Star” songs from emo chick bands from 1993-1998 and send them along their eventual path.  In fact, the limited ITunes data gathering that I have accomplished has gone a long way in using iTunes rather than my brain to remember each and every song that I appreciate. Sometimes, it is too hard to be put on the spot at the moment when someone asks you what you really like now. Now if you give me a couple moments to search iTunes, I can probably come up with a good representation of some classic songs.


And yet at the same time while I enjoy all this power with my music collection I get scared of the idea of having my purchasing decisions being determined by the songs that I listen to. Since I bought a copy of Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, I might also enjoy these other 20 albums that listeners bought. To be fair, data analysis can go well beyond finding weird correlations such as fans of Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ also purchased ‘The Basic Writings of Nietzsche’, although maybe Richard Meltzer might find this interesting.


I write all of this in response to Ethan Kaplan’s blog piece on the future of music for WBR, a piece that should be read by all fans.


Ethan speaks of the delicate balance of using data and representing artists:


I work in the music business. Our business is representing artists. The work that we represent for those artists is their life. It is our job to make sure we treat their life with the preciousness it deserves.


The reason that I think that this article is important is that it changes the construct at which record companies focused their energies. Sure, we can always focus on the “Promotion” aspect; that record companies played a key role in getting songs on the radio, promoting the record, etc. The key aspect for many years was distribution. Larger labels had more resources to make sure albums hit global markets vs. small labels which might only be available on a limited basis, mail order, import, etc. One of the reasons R.E.M. switched from IRS to Warner Bros. was so the band could hit many untapped markets that IRS did not have the resources to enter.


Today, it’s not distribution. Even small indie label artists can get their albums on iTunes and attract a global audience, minus some legal hassles. Hell, I can play the banjo and sing off key and put my songs up on this site for free.


Where data plays a role is being able to focus on artists individually and find ways to properly promote their work.


Now, only time will tell as to whether data will save the record industry. As Ethan mentioned, in an era when we are being bombarded with more information than we can handle, will the industry be able to filter that down to the consumer in a context that they will be able to understand.  It is a challenge and a mighty big one. 

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Wavves – King of the Beach

July 27th, 2010 No comments

I love Nathan Williams and the entire story of him being pelted at a Spanish Festival would not have been a big deal if he was allowed to grow as an artist. Here is someone that went from making albums in his basement to playing at huge festivals in Spain. Ahh, but in the 24-hour news cycle, even “Buzz Bands” can get their “You Tube Moment”. At the same time, imagine yourself playing less than 20 shows ever in your career, going across the pond and performing at a festival as big as Primavera and not falling flat on your face?


I saw Wavves last year at the most unlikely of places, Chopin Theatre, which appeared at the time to be set up for some New Age play and figured to make an extra buck by throwing a music act in there on a quiet Sunday evening. The theatre was a”Pre-Show” to his show at the Empty Bottle later that evening and also an “All-Ages” show and due to it being set up mainly for plays, Williams invited the entire crowd onstage and performed a blistering set full of energy, perfect for the youthful audience. I was also able to catch him at an abbreviated set at Pitchfork Festival last year, towing a broken arm for good measure.


King of the Beach is a cleaner sound than his second album “Wavves”, and wavers on playing around with trying to do Pre-Dookie Green Day and then starts in on the fun stuff with tracks like “When Will You Come” then goes crazy batshit psychaedelic Deerhunter meets Animal Collective at a surf shop.


For some unfortunate reason Williams has been tagged by some critics as not deserving the buzz around his band but I honestly think that people should give him a second look. It might be that the people making these statements just find that the buzz was laid on so thick by some of the internet crowd there was a need to topple Williams from the top of the mountain.


It would be easy based on his last album to just call him “Beach Punk” but Wavves somehow is able to mixing punk with kitschy sounds on such songs as “Baseball Cards” that keeps you off guard.


If “Idiot” is by the book, “Green Eyes” explores more sonic textures and losing the voice effects that were predominant on his last album, should make his album a core part of the “Teen Angst” crowd.


Songs like ‘Mickey Mouse’ explore his genius. The song is pop bliss and the reason that I listen to music to begin with. It contains loops with that classic 60’s pop sound that makes it feel fresh and alive.

Comparing his work to a band like Sleigh Bells, my only feeling is that Williams doesn’t feel fake (Sorry, the more that I hear Sleigh Bells they just seem to be trying to reproduce the Pussycat Dolls).


Williams ends the album with “Baby Say Goodbye” which gives some indication of his full musical abilities. Part punk, part lo fi exploration, it’s a fitting end to this album.




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Panda Bear @Pitchfork & Thoughts About His New Album

July 22nd, 2010 No comments

In reminiscing about last weekend at Pitchfork, the set that really intrigued me out of any other was the Saturday evening showcase by Panda Bear, one of the members of the band Animal Collective.


While Animal Collective has grown in stature, with Avey Tare (Dave Portner) being the principal songwriters for the band, Panda Bears (Noah Lennox) work has been equally as impressive.  2007’s ‘Person Pitch’, a sunny, sugary sample-infused glimpse is a masterpiece, as it paints a very positive world in it’s 60s pop samples and Panda’s crooning voice.


(Btw, Do you prefer Panda Bear, Panda,  P. Bear or should I call him Mr. Bear?)


Panda Bear is scheduled to release, ‘Tomboy’, his follow-up to Person Pitch in September and while a couple of tracks have been released via Tomboy single (Slow Motion/Tomboy, both available as a 7” or digital download), much of the set that he played Saturday night at Pitchfork was new material. Panda Bear’s inclusion in the Pitchfork setlist was especially gratifying since he has only played a couple shows this year, predominantly at festivals as well as the fact P. Bear does not typically do long tours, so,  as you can imagine, my own expectations for this show would be fairly high based on my own “Fanboy-esque” presence on top of viewing this rarity right here in Chicago.  I was not wearing any full-fledged “Panda” costume just my “I *Heart* Ryan Schreiber” t-shirt.


Whenever, being presented initially with live music, at times the context and expectations is the key and I think for many people that watched this show left feeling a bit disappointed. Trust me, I understand your confusion and frustration thinking that P. Bear would launch into a powerful ‘Comfy in Nautica’ or an extra long version of ‘Bros’ only to be slightly happy about the version of ‘Ponytail’ that made the setlist.

(Below a version of Panda Bears – Bros) 


What are my own initial thoughts of Tomboy? Trance inducing, dark, immense, post-apocalyptic: that is pretty much where to start with this music.  I found it to be very sad, very emotional, “Post-Hope” for liberals (I guess in context of the culture is the era where liberals come to grips that one great man cannot save a nation). 


(I also someday want to write something and consider it “Post-Music”; then of course you can have the “Pre-Post Music” genre. Maybe this would be where this album would fall.)


Now, some have described his show as being a snoozfest, others as self-indulgent which I though what rock and roll was all about to begin with. Jim Derogatis made a stink by saying the following:


Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, a.k.a. Noah Lennox, played a way-too-long set of drony trance grooves punctuated by atonal yelps, yodels, and the occasional wounded whale noise. If this sort of thing had been delivered by a third-tier Grateful Dead offshoot band on one of the smaller stages at Bonnaroo, the Pitchfork crowd would have scoffed in derision. But since it was Pitchfork-endorsed, most stood politely and soaked it in, though there was a steady stream of refugees fleeing for the other stages, the food lines, or the Porta-Potties.


So basically this is all Pitchfork’s fault for writing reviews and liking Person Pitch and well just overall giving a wet blowjob to Panda Bear. Damn them! Of course on the old Pitchfork/Metacritic scale: 9.4/87 the album rates as one of the better works of the last 10 years, not just with Ryan Schreiber or his Grandmother but with other people and their grandmothers, some of whom did not attend P4K.


Allow me a moment to venture off into a entire new direction for a moment. 


I remember several years ago seeing Television at the Metro. Television was not one to tour all that much until the year 2000 and near the beginning of the set, Tom Verlaine had some guitar problems. Tom Verlaine is not a talkative guy. I would doubt that he has ever heard been told to “Shut up and play”. And in a way P. Bear is like that as well. He’s just shy and to himself and there is not too much stage banter between songs, in fact there is pretty much close to zero.


So anyhow, back to the Verlaine story. So all of a sudden he’s putting his guitar down on the stage floor at Metro, gets down on his hands and knees and begins to restring the guitar. And I am thinking to myself in my Rod Blagojevich mindset, “This is Tom”Motherfucking” Verlaine restringing his guitar at the Metro. This is not an invonvenience. This is not a fucking problem. He can urinate in my fucking mouth if he wants to.”


To Dero’s point, Panda is not a fucking third-tier Grateful Dead band. There are going to be artists and musicians that you just give this opportunity to and I believe that Mr. Bear falls into that category based both on success of his last record and AC’s success.


At the same time, from where I stood, I can understand the scoffs coming from the crowd that decided to depart early to get a good spot for LCD Soundsystem or find something else to bide their time. This music is not necessarily going to get you on the first listen and maybe not the tenth either.


Let’s go through some of the problems with Panda Bears set.


1) Knowledge of the material being played onstage was lacking


With the exception of Ponytail, from Person Pitch, all of the material was brand spanking new. Unless fans had already heard the single Tomboy/Slow Motion live, or had downloaded or listened to samples from YouTube, when they thought Panda Bear they thought Person Pitch.


2) Panda Bear’s set is very stripped down


Lacking in his live shows are the depth of the music that exhibited in the album. Trying to reproduce this with a mixer, guitar and one person is very difficult. Now for a fan like myself that is coming in with that perspective in mind, my perception is going to be different than from the fan that comes in expecting the music to be lush. Now, Panda Bear does not tour all that much, so far only performing at a couple of festivals making his debut of this music. This is not a 50 date World Tour spanning the globe. I had a similar problem with Atlas Sound (aka Bradford Cox of Deerhunter) that played at the Lincoln Hall several months ago. I thought that the Atlas Sound album ‘Logos’ was one of the best of the year and when I saw him walk onstage just with a guitar in hand and some effects, I knew that this is going to be much different than the album. On the other hand, Caribou, which is pretty much a project of Dan Snaith provides an entire band to go on tour with him to try to “Recreate” the sound of the record.


So we essentially have a disparity in an artists choice in trying to reproduce their sound live. Following Wilco years ago, I would often go to many Jeff Tweedy Solo shows that sold themselves as strictly that it was Jeff playing songs, strumming his guitar, playing his harmonica with a much more wide array of songs being performed, telling jokes and yelling at fans for talking during the show. His Wilco shows were a much different endeavor with much more strict setlists, less banter, the occaisional “Stop Talking” comment but obviously the songs were much more in tune with the actual recordings.


3) Panda Bear/Animal Collective Live Shows in General


Seeing them several times, I admit that the performances are not set up to play “The Hits”. They have always been a band that attempted to challenge the audience rather than play jukebox. Their Pitchfork show from 2008 contained several songs from the yet unreleased ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ and seeing them on their promo tour in 2009 at the Metro in Chicago, most of the show focused on that album which had only been out for 2 days prior  (although already leaked) to their show. By the time they made it to Lollapalooza, in front of a large audience their 8 song set consisted of two unreleased numbers, 3 songs from Merriweather and three older songs with the set leaving out ‘My Girls’ and ‘Summertime Clothes’ both of which would be crowd pleasers. Instead their set was much more subdued not choosing a path to stardom, but their own and thus reactions to their performances have always been mixed.

* * *


Keeping the above points in mind, my expectations for this show were going to be getting a rough draft of the album. Stripped down songs that only give a very limited representation of what “Tomboy” would sound like. Having a chance to listen to the ‘Tomboy’ single, I have been pleasantly surprised. No, I do not think that Panda’s mixed review live show will have much of a negative impact on this album.


I can only say for myself is that the band that left me with the most intrigue was Mr. Bears new work. The intrigue of the work mixed with the adjoining video being played on the screens of course made for a very trippy atmosphere. Panda realized that a one-man mixing, strumming, singing machine is not going to be all that entertaining onstage. If you sat and watched Panda, what was your reasoning?


In terms of the music, I want to hear more. It provided a very dark texture, seeping with sadness, almost as if memories were being torn apart. It felt as if “Humanity” failed, entirely perfect for a festival setting. No better way to celebrate than bring down the entire crowd that will more likely want to go home and write in their live journals. 


Drone could have been the worst way to start off a “Festival Show” and yet, I imagine that if you are going to introduce the music from this album, it is the only way to do that.


(Panda Bear performing Drone and Tomboy) 



Tomboy, the single that has been released has an almost “early Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd” thing going on reminiscent by the guitar’s and P. Bear’s crooning 60’s style. The single is much more expansive than the live show as would be the B-Side Slow Motion, with a slightly more modern approach than ‘Tomboy’. You can also compare the single version below with the version above to get a glimpse of the live vs. studio sound.





“Slow Motion” feels as if there exists an echo in reality. There is a fuzzy ethereal quality and possibly out of all the tracks the one that feels the most similar to Person Pitch.


There are other tracks such as Bullseye which when watching this live just blew me away. The visuals on top of the music just felt tragic as a pair ride this rollercoaster, and begin stripping only to see their demise.



I leave this post with the conclusion that while Panda’s set might not have been optimal, I think if taken in the correct context should have provided a glimpse on what is yet to come.

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Hipster’s Invade Pitchfork Festival

July 21st, 2010 No comments

If I had a dime for every hipster that I saw at Pitchfork this year, I would have about $2.30 which is less than a gallon of gas these days. While I might be “exaggerating” this somewhat, it has to be said that Pitchfork as a music festival has become much larger than just some high school/college fashion/ego event. Over the years I have seen families, (admittedly less this year than prior which could be due to the heat), old folks, and young flock this event. And while it could be due to the aforementioned weather, I never get the impression that it was all that blatant.


Yes, the heat was pretty oppressive for three days even for this 37 year old. There were points on Sunday when I knew to have muttered under my furr, “I Love that Cloud”.  If that makes me a homo-cumulus then so be it.


While styles change, and well, shit, I am about as stylistic as Carson Kressley’s turtle Mimi, it just sorta looked as if Chicago invaded a park and partied for a couple of days. I bring all of this up because the very idea of the “Pitchfork Crowd” has become synonymous with attempting to be part of the progressive counter-culture but in the era of music and it’s site it’s also become known as being a sheep.


See the thing is that anything that Pitchfork rates as a great album it has to be a great album cause Pitchfork says so, or that would be what others want you to believe.


While I truly dabble to at least experiment and try to keep up with their “Best New Music” this is pretty far from the truth.  I have an entire list of albums, that still need to be looked into as I have fallen way behind in the ole purchasing music category.  I would also say that there is plenty of work that has been given positive reviews by their staff that I have found no such love for.  The two albums that come to mind that were on their best new music lists that I just did not care for was Gorrilaz – Plastic Beach, (which would be the album that Johnny Rotten was asked by an exec to perform on. Good thing he turned it down). The other is Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me, which for whatever reason I just cannot stand her style. I also cannot forget Vampire Weekend’s new album which is just trash in my eyes.


Secondly, lets look at some of the “Pitchfork Bands” that played the festival and compare some of their “Ratings” to that of other major critics. Metacritic’s site looks as a way to compile major reviews and give an overall rating for the album in the same way that Rottentomatoes reviews movies.


First score in parentheses is Pitchfork’s score and second one being the Metacritic score:


LCD Soundsystem (9.2/84)

Sleigh Bells – (8.7/84)

Delorean (8.4/79)

Big Boi (9.2/90)

Beach House (9.0/82)

Robyn (8.5/75)

Broken Social Scene (8.3/77)

Tallest Man on Earth (8.5/79)

Surfer Blood (8.2/78)

Titus Andronicus (8.7/81)

Girls (9.0/80)


While this is not scientific and only the first bands that I looked up, we can obviously see that there is a pattern and most of these bands were given slightly higher ratings than the average score posted on Metacritic. At the same time this is like saying that Barack Obama polls better in the Lakeview Neighborhood in Chicago than compared to the rest of the Nation.


There were a couple albums above where we see a wide disparity in scores. The Girls album from last year and Robyn’s both showed an almost 10 point gap. We also have to take into account that Pitchfork reviews their albums on a 10 point scale and most album reviews are given stars (Out of 4 or 5). Pitchfork is able to fine tune their scores a bit more than most album reviews. I wish I could say that I have consulted Nate Silver about some of this and I am waiting for him to call me back and write a 1000 word essay on this, I am not a pollster or statistician that looks at data this intuitively and make some blanket statement that “Rasmussen” polls higher or lower than other polls. Everything is biased.  Objectivity does not exist in reviews and don’t pretend for one moment that any critic is somehow free from bias to make an “Objective” view on anything.  Pitchfork is “biased” towards “Indie Rock” as are their fans.  Because even with the bias there is still some correlation between what is good and not. All the albums above were admittedly very positive. Everything over 8.0 Pitchfork or 80 in Metacritic is considered “Best New Music”.  Pitchfork’s selling point has always been on “Independent Music” i.e. “Indie Rock” so sure their bias is going to be stronger for that genre than say for Top 40 radio. That is their thing.


There might be some backlash that Pitchfork’s reviews are too powerful. As a zine, some might feel that their readership and popularity among the indie buying crowd monopolizes a bands chances of success or failures. As such, it’s a slippery slope. The same could be said for a site that is selling criticism, news, internet television and concerts.  It all of a sudden becomes a conflict of interest if the act that you just billed for P4K has a crappy album and you end up giving it a positive review for the sake of it. I guess if that was the case you should see a wider disparity in the scores or scores greater more in the range of 15 to 20 points higher.


However, what I have seen from going to the shows is that the fans are not all “Indie-Fantastic”. What Pitchfork has provided to the city of Chicago is a cheaper, non-corporate festival (unlike Lollapalooza) that runs about half the price, ticketwise, and is fan-friendly.


Consider the heat factor this past weekend. Pitchfork organizers quickly realized the dilemma and immediately cut bottled water prices in half from 2 dollars to 1 dollar to keep people hydrated. This is on top of the idea that they were passing water in front of both larger stages throughout the day to prevent any emergencies.


They instituted a policy whereby fans collecting plastic beer cups on the grounds could turn in 10 cups for a beverage ticket ($1). It never felt as a “Money-grubbing” opportunity but rather a “Best Concert Experience” opportunity. It is true that they went with Heineken as a beer sponser this year vs. using 312 but my understanding was that this went into having better sound equipment as well as allowed them to drop the cost in water.


They are not associated with Ticketmaster/LiveNation so you do not see enormous fees in their tickets. The fact that a daily ticket for their shows only costed $40 dollars can also point to the affordability.


While I think that some of the talent lacked from prior years, I still did have a wonderful time and as I let some of my thoughts on the music portion of the weekend digest, this I am hoping is a precurser to that.


Ultimately, when things get too big, criticism arises.  As indie music has grown and corporate rock shrunk, audiences have shifted away from being much more selective about their tastes and preferences. Quite honestly, I look at my own buying patterns for everything that is “Non-music”. What I find myself doing is buying much more local products vs. global. The food I buy, the stores that I visit, I can follow on the internet and thus shifting patterns away from large corporations and to smaller more independent stores.  Music as well as focused it’s attention away from large acts that fill arenas and to smaller more intimate acts that you see in clubs. Pitchfork has been a mechanism to allow this to happen, to separate the bad from the good and to prevent the consumer to not be so inundated with new music that they become overwhelmed.


As any media I might disagree with them but appreciate the efforts they sustain to keep it as ethically viable as possible.  


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