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Event Coverage

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic

Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend by far, yet still a relatively (by Coachella standards) 83 degrees with a nice occasional breeze. It showed in the increased turnout to the open stages; Kentucky buzz band Sleeper Agent played a quick and dirty wake-up call of big riffs and shout-along choruses on the Outdoor Stage to the bleary-eyed, quickly roasting audience. I soon made my way to the other side of the festival to check out the criminally underbilled Noisia who played to a half-filled Sahara tent. I’m assuming Noisia’s relentless brand of drum n’ bass and dubstep was a bit too dark for the serotonin-depleted masses. After catching their well received remix of deadmau5’s “Raise Your Weapon,” I detoured over to the Mojave to see perennially on the cusp indie rockers Oberhofer. There’s a bit of Wavves in their rambling, sunny surf-rock, and if there was ever a song to get Brad Oberhofer’s pet project finally over the hump, irrepressibly catchy single “Away Frm U” is about as good a shot as any. Energy was something Mr. Oberhofer definitely did not lack; at one point, he climbed the precarious metal support on the left of the stage, seemingly for the express purpose of massaging the lights before climbing down and giving running high fives to the first row.

Santigold had a great time over at the Main Stage for her mid-afternoon…

Photo courtesy of Kaskade

Where Friday was cold, dreary and windy, Saturday was merely cold and windy. The sun maintained a long vigil during the day, but razor sharp gusts and a high that barely cleared 70 degrees made sure Coachella kept making a pretty penny on hoodie sales. 2:30 in the afternoon is not necessarily morning, but it always feels like that, with the majority of the festival still in their tents or beds recovering from the night before. Destroyer didn’t seem to mind, though; playing a seven song set heavy in Kaputt cuts, Bejar was in fine form for the afternoon mood. Many enjoyed the suave jazz of “Chinatown” and the hazy “Bay of Pigs” from blankets in the grass, an appropriately dreamy soundtrack as the sun beat down on them and most people unwillingly began their day.

After that I kicked up the energy a bit for Zeds Dead’s set at the Sahara. Already way past full, the Sahara tent was rocking with the Mad Decent duo’s eclectic mix of hip-hop, dubstep and straight-ahead electro. Although Zeds Dead killed it, the already rowdy antics of much of the Sahara’s population had me swearing off the tent for the rest of the day, a decision made easier by future Sahara tenants (David Guetta, Martin Solveig, Sebastian Ingrosso … ehh, I’ll pass). I managed to catch the end of Britpop castaways Kaiser Chiefs on the Main Stage,…

There was a surreal moment on Saturday night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that typified just how much the festival has changed over the past twelve years. As the orchestral swells and backing vocals dissipated from Leslie Feist’s huge backing band as “Feel It All” faded away into the dusk on the Outdoor Stage, Feist waved to the cheering crowd and thanked them for the support, adding nonchalantly, “see you next weekend!” It was an odd, wrenching tearing of the reality-altering cocoon that Coachella has built up around itself. For months leading up to this weekend, the hype and excitement for what has become the quintessential American music festival is nearly all-consuming, eventually leading to a weekend that, regardless of the seeming impossibility of meeting expectations, manages to live up to it all. Whether you spend your weekend camped in the baking heat, surrounded by a swell of campers who flash eternal smiles despite conditions that would appall the writers of the Geneva Convention, or carpool in from the surrounding small vacation towns of Indio and Palm Desert that turn into veritable cities of drug-addled youth and defiantly stereotypical hippies, Coachella remains a singular experience.

Yet there Feist was, breaking the illusion that this was a unique happening. The splitting of Coachella into two weekends was arguably necessary, given that 2011’s festival sold out in less than six days and this year’s edition was a two-week sellout…

Fourteen years ago, Refused played what, up until last month, was their last show in a grimy basement in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A crowd of only forty or so people saw what is arguably one of the most influential bands of the last twenty years implode in the haze of infighting and police lights. Ten years ago I was first shown their landmark album The Shape of Punk to Come in the back of a high school Spanish class, with the mystical allure that “you will never ever get to see this”. Viewing the too esoteric for its own good documentary Refused are Fucking Dead only seemed to drive this point home. For all intents and purposes “dead” was what they were going to stay. That is why earlier this year when it was announced that Refused were reuniting for a slew of festival dates it came as a shock, not only because of the years of still spiteful attitudes but because for just about everyone who has ever listened to The Shape of Punk To Come Refused’s absence was an obvious given, just like gravity or E=MC^2.

With their Coachella appearance the day after, last night Refused sold out the Glass House in Pomona in seconds in what was by far one of the most talked about festival one offs in a week full of great word of mouth club shows. At 10 PM the lights at the Glass House began to dim and a low drone started to…

Times are tough… Unless you are in the music industry yourself (or a retired millionaire), it is difficult to attend every single gig that passes through town. Local acts will usually give you multiple opportunities – sometimes in the one year – to see them, but when it comes to international outfits, who knows when they will be back around your parts again. Favored acts are usually given the benefit of the doubt, and so was the case with Floridian rockers Anberlin early in 2011, when yours truly saw them twice in the same week (Soundwave Festival & headlining sideshow). So when the Stephen Christian led quintet announced that they would be touring Australia once more in August, I met the revelation with ambivalence. I mean, it was not as if they had released a new album in the meantime, and simply throwing “An Evening With…” on the tour poster did little for me initially. Surely, they had to woo fans some other way. And that they did!

First up – and the only support act of the night – were Sydney pop-punkers Tonight Alive. Having been impressed by the quintet at a previous supporting performace, their placement on this show was most definitely a pleasing one. As per usual, charismatic front-woman Jenna McDougall was handing out lessons on the art of smiling, while woo’ing all the (ummm) gentlemen in attendance with a Led Zeppelin t-shirt covered by a flannel shirt. Looks really are not an issue with…


With the debut albums of both bands having occupied top 10 spots in my previous two year-end lists, the double bill of Australian rock acts Dead Letter Circus and Closure In Moscow at the Hi-Fi Bar in Melbourne sure looked like an appetizing gig. What would be unbeknownst to me at the time of entry however was that the third act on the bill – Perth outfit Wolves – would make the evening all the more attractive.

Playing a heavy, yet extremely accessible, brand of alternative rock, the quintet distinguish themselves via electric violin player Rachael Aquilina. And while she undoubtedly adds a satisfying sense of melody to proceedings, it would be foolish to overlook her colleagues, all of whom were accomplished on the night. Frontman Adam Burford has an impressive vocal range which can move from a soft croon to a harsh scream in an instant, while Russell Winter’s guitar-work was sporadically impressive. In fact, if there is one area of improvement to be highlighted, it was that Winter too often looked hesitant to steal the limelight from Aquilina. When they worked in tandem, the results were fantastic… As can be heard on Wolves’ lead single ‘Children’:

Often, the major concern with support acts is that they are going to bore the hell out of the majority of the audience who are there to see the headliners. With Wolves having done exactly the opposite, Closure In Moscow were next to step up and keep the…

I must have seen her face before 
I fell in love when I was born
Now they hide her with a whisper 
It’s over

If I were to list out all the bands that I’ve ever seen live and list them in accordance to how many times I’ve dragged my ass down to some dive of a venue to see them, RX Bandits would proudly sit atop that list. Since my introduction to them back when they were just a politicized 3rd wave ska act through their growth into one of the most forward thinking acts in modern music I’ve had the honor to see them one shy of a dozen times – but it was the last two shows, two of their last three shows ever (and last in the vicinity of their southern California home) that proudly affirm how special they really are/were. Their sets at the Mayan Theater in the heart of downtown Los Angeles and two days later at the Glasshouse a half hour inland in Pomona made the previous 9 RX Bandits shows that I have attended seem reserved in comparison, which is no easy feat.

Part 1: August 4th, 2011 @ the Mayan Theater

Shows at the Mayan are always a mixed bag. On one hand the size of the venue and its stunning décor that looks ripped straight out of the intro scene of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark add a remarkable ambiance…

Saturday’s schedule was underwhelming to say the least, a day filled with artists I never bothered to check out and bands that seemed undeserving of Pitchfork’s raves, but their mass coverage of the artist before the album seemed to predicate them attaching a best new music tag to the group’s album or single — artists like Gang Gang Dance and Julianna Barwick. Fittingly, I saw Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast walking around during the day.

I didn’t bother showing up until No Age played– again, one of those bands I just never got around to. Their two-person punk rock was energetic, but the show made me wish I was watching the more energetic, anthemic, and impressive Japandroids. Guitarist Randy Randall’s rig was nothing short of impressive, with three huge cabinets and a massive array of effects pedals, but he only ever seemed to use one distortion sound and, at the beginnings of songs, would occasionally loop and delay the feedback that inevitably ended every song. Perhaps I missed something due to the sound levels; clearly, the engineers were still tuned in to dance act Chrissy Murderbot, who had played the Red Stage before No Age, as the only thing audible for a good half of No Age’s set was drummer and vocalist Dean Allen Spunt’s bass drum. Indeed, bass-heavy mixes were a complaint for most of the festival.

Gang Gang Dance

Destroyer @ Pitchfork Music Festival, 7.16.11

Following No Age, I vaguely watched Gang Gang Dance, but aside from “Mindkilla”, they did almost nothing exciting, even with…

Pitchfork Music Festival Day 2

The Pitchfork Music Festival is strange. It’s strange because unlike so many other festivals around the United States, the organization behind the festival has its own ideas and its own opinions – opinions that are widely known. Indeed, Pitchfork could be considered the MTV of the 21st century blogosphere, a tastemaker and a major influence on the popularity of bands in the indie scene and, increasingly so, in the hip-hop scene. Whereas a Lollapalooza or a Coachella will book a group based on the number of fans it can attract, Pitchfork looks to not only attract visitors, but also showcase their taste. It comes as no surprise that a vast majority of the artists playing at Pitchfork have received the publication’s coveted “Best New Music” tag, either on an album, track, or reissue. So when multiple acts thanked Pitchfork for their “generous support” or “continued enthusiasm” or what have you, the gesture seemed a bit stranger, and it seemed that the artists had a more intimate relationship with the publication that they might have with Bonnaroo’s organizers.

Pitchfork’s opinions have not gone without criticism and controversy. Anti-domestic violence demonstrators picketed outside of Chicago’s cozy Union Park, where the festival is held, to protest the appearance of rap group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. (In response, Odd Future gave them cupcakes before their show). Pitchforkreviewsreviews.com, a website cryptically run by a guy named David, used to review the reviews that Pitchfork posted everyday. Now, David has taken to analyzing…

“Your troubles are gonna be so far gone… way gone… like, all the way over there.”

Photo courtesy of Cecily Rhys Perez

That was an interesting night for Tallest Man on Earth fans. They filled Shepherd’s Bush grand venue top to bottom, a venue one might find more fitting for a veteran indie band like Wilco, but not so much for a newbie of folk with two albums and the peak of his career still arguably ahead. It felt closer to waiting for an arena rock sell-out than for the guy who eventually swaggered on a few minutes late. But boy, did Kristian Mattson make the night his: the crowd were surely acting like this was arena rock, and Mattson, so unexpectedly for a man known for such understated folk songs, was happy to entertain that little fantasy. No waiting around or opening with a little song, as many of us expected (“The Wild Hunt” was absent from the night as a whole), Mattson instead opened with the immediate presence of “I Won’t Be Found” and moved through two songs of Shallow Grave like they were anthems for sharing.

And that’s how it was for a good hour of the night. The crowd were more excited to be a part of songs from The Wild Hunt and Shallow Grave than they were to hear them, and that’s the way of this man live. He seemed very much happy for the participation that came with “The Gardener”-…

Photo courtesy of Maurice Li

One of the hardest things to do at Coachella is wake up in time to get to the festival early to catch the first few bands. Usually this isn’t too big of a problem – rarely has a band I’ve loved been set too early. Sunday was an exception, as Phosphorescent took the Mojave tent stage at 12:15. Missing out on the extra sleep was a great decision – Matt Houck and his band played their whiskey-strained alt-country with a steel guitar riffing and piano-pounding passion that enervated the sleepy residents of the tent and woke me up for the day better than any energy drink.

The only thing worse for a band’s Coachella audience than an early start time is extreme heat, and as Sunday afternoon stretched on and temperatures reached the highest they’d been all weekend, it wasn’t all that surprising to see Menomena’s set at the Outdoor stage less than packed as concertgoers scrambled for the tents. Menomena, after all, aren’t the same band as they used to be – with founding member Brent Knopf leaving the band this past January, songs on which he sang lead vocals were nowhere to be found. But what they did play, sticking mostly to songs from 2007’s Friend and Foe and last year’s Mines, was up to the rabid fans’ standards who braved the 100 degree heat. Closer “TAOS” was the obvious favorite.

Photo

Photo courtesy of Rukes

A rough night meant I didn’t make it to the festival grounds until close to 3, but that was never really a problem: the first act I wanted to see happened to be Sputnik favorite The Tallest Man on Earth at 3 pm in the Gobi tent. Throughout the weekend the Gobi seemed to be getting the least love, but this afternoon it was unusually packed, everyone there just to see one tiny Swedish dude and his guitar. He didn’t disappoint – any fears I had of his occasionally grating voice transferring to a live setting were quickly dispelled: he actually sounded better live! Everything came together on “King of Spain,” the audience lifting Kristian Matsson’s voice to new heights and his acoustic guitar ringing out over the tent grounds quite effectively.

My indie rock embarrassment of riches began shortly afterwards with Americana group Delta Spirit at the Outdoor stage. They may not be the most original band, but as a live performance they put on quite the show. Singer Matthew Vasquez’s long dark locks made him look like Dave Grohl’s lost twin, but he sounded more Walkmen than Foo Fighters, his gravelly voice propelling the band’s dust-and-blood barroom tales further than they could have hoped. For a band with a minimal following at the festival, Delta Spirit, like Titus Andronicus the day before, really delivered it for their fans.

I then caught the latter half of Irish rockers…

Photo courtesy of Gavin Langille

For all the hype surrounding Coachella 2011 – the six day sellout, the mounting confusion and problems regarding the festival’s new wristband ticket method, the fear of scalpers selling fake tickets and wristbands not shipping out in time, once the festival was under way it was still the same old Coachella. Friendly people slapping hands and exchanging “happy Coachellas!;” temperatures routinely soaring above 100; enough drugs to make Noriega and Kesey blush; and music. Music that was at times brilliant, enthralling, obtusely weird, fist pumping, merely okay and atypically shocking and everything in between, but still the lifeblood of the festival no matter who came . . . and there were a lot. From shirtless fraternity boys to forty-year-old scene veterans, from stoned, bleary-eyed hipsters to day-glo-adorned rave kids, Coachella stuck them all in a boiling polo field of a pot and, for one weekend at least, helped them appreciate everything and everyone else. Coachella may be becoming more of a place to be seen than appreciated nowadays (over the course of the festival I saw Katy Perry, Tara Reid, Paul McCartney and even David Hasselhoff, all almost exclusively in the VIP lounges enjoying the drinks rather than the music), but few festivals can match its uniting experience. And it remains unforgettable.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Friday was going to be the coolest day of the weekend – a “pleasant” 93 degrees, blinding sun…

Hosted by Drake, who in spite of his show-leading six nominations left empty handed, this past weekend’s Juno awards were somehow pretty entertaining. Sure they made Canada’s music scene seem like little more than a conglomeration of ageing hippies and filthy hipsters, but…actually, that’s pretty much what the Canadian music scene is.

One of the biggest surprises of the night, other than Neil Young’s inexplicable victory for Artist of the Year and Shania Twain’s reference to her “Canadian Bush” was Drake’s job as a host. From his before-show Skype skit with news anchor Lloyd Robertson and Justin Bieber to his Chilly Gonzales accompanied rendition of Snow’s “Informer”, Drake was a surprisingly personable and entertaining host, but perhaps no part of Drake’s hosting turn was as goofy and peculiar as the skit you’re about to see. In it, Drake plays on the “Young Money” label by, well…harassing a bunch of senior citizens. Cuuuuuute?

This is the second of two posts. Read the first one here

Things got a lot heavier on Friday, both musically and alcoholically. Let’s just say that Saturday morning and I didn’t see eye to eye, but boy was it worth it.

Friday was an early-starter, since I was off to Sonic Boom Records to catch an early in store set by the dudes in Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots), who, if you haven’t heard—and I’m betting you haven’t—are a shit-ton of fun. If you couldn’t figure it out based on their name, they take themselves less than seriously, and their sets are shout-y, hand-clapped and tambourine dominated riots. They’re what happens when indie rockers grow up on Rancid, and even though the crowd at Sonic Boom was real young and inexplicably sitting cross-legged, they were as fun as ever. From the hooks of “Asshole Pandemic” (asshole pandemic/why’s that fucking dick gotta be such a cock?) to the stomp of “Friends Don’t Let Friends Move In With Girlfriends”, their short set was a barrage of gang-vocals, synths and guitar(s) turned to eleven. The best part? I liked when Jordan (guitar) and Brodie (Vocals) high-fived with their tambourines. Yay, friendship!

Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) – Asshole Pandemic

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Up next was Bombay Bicycle…

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