Live Picks: 06.30.2011 – 07.06.2011

07.01: High In One Eye + Native America – Dragon’s Den

07.02: Tony Skratchere hosts “America The Party: The Yacht Bounce Invasion” – Rusty Nail

07.03: Rx Bandits + Maps & Atlases – Howlin’ Wolf

It’d probably be a fools errand to retrospectively anoint an “ambassador” for third wave ska, an all-but extinct genre of music from the 1990s that to some was  nothing more than a passing fad, but to others was and is still a fully encompassing lifestyle and obsession. However, if there is one band that has proven itself capable of both capturing the ears of the former group and gaining the respect of the latter (and there may literally be only one band that has done this), it is the Rx Bandits.

After standing at the forefront of the ska/pop punk pseudo-explosion and releasing a couple of horn-heavy reggae rock albums at the end of the nineties, this California band began revealing themselves as musical chameleons with Progress, an album that immediately placed them heads above the enormous fray of nauseatingly cutesy, one-dimensional stereotypes that seemed to embody the turn of the millennium. From there, it was an eight-year journey through the outer reaches of Prog – complete with unpredictable song structures, intense rhythm shifts, keyboard solos, and mind-blowing guitar virtuosity – that was just as critically and commercially well-received as their catchy former verse-chorus construction.

Unfortunately for the Bandits, who recently announced that their 2011 Summer Tour will be their last, the capricious musical odyssey appears to be coming to an end. As such, their visit to New Orleans on July 3 will be our last chance to catch a band that – even though now pared down to a brassless four-piece – has become a fireball of peerless live energy and instrumental perfection. They’ll be joined at the Howlin’ Wolf by mathy, folk-influenced label mates Maps & Atlases.

MP3: Rx Bandits – “Breakfast Cat”

Check out our New Orleans Music Calendar for a full slate of constantly updated live picks

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GIVERS: In Light

Glassnote, 2011

In what may be an example of professional misdirection in marketing at its most tactful, record mogul and Indie Pop Kevin-Bacon-from-The-Air-Up-There Daniel Glass has seemed pretty modest about the chances for success of his newest find GIVERS.  In recent interviews, he has implied that the recorded product on In Light probably won’t hold a candle to the band’s trademark live show, which is really where he wants people to connect with the band. Listeners should be taken completely by surprise then that, behind the thick, sprawling production of In Light are the sounds of a band tirelessly creating and applying their own ideas to the point of near-perfection.

It’s truly a rare and precious occurrence when something this sonically bloated is also this substantively accomplished. With help from producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter) and mixing master Chris Coady (whose work earlier this year single-handedly brought …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead out of prog-rock oblivion), GIVERS somehow manage to present every note, flourish and minute texture on In Light as if they’ve refreshingly never been put to wax. Only one minute into opener “Up, Up, Up” (whose background synth line playfully resembles that of Rilo Kiley’s “Breakin’ Up”), otherworldly vocal harmonies and intensely high-in-the-mix percussive nick knacks expand into a jubilant barrage of heavy drums and fully-fleshed keyboards.

“Saw You First”, a driving track of multi-layered folk guitars and vocal flourishes, is symptomatic of the band’s “sprint out of the gates” mindset, as they attempt to pack every idea they have into the album’s 51 minutes.  In doing so, they successfully take interesting musical turns at nearly every minute of every song.  Among the myriad fragmented melodies and instrumental arrangements, the choirboy vocals of Taylor Guarisco and the sultry howl of Tiffany Lamson never get lost in the chaos, like that found on “Atlantic”.

Possibly the only genuine knock against In Light may be the glaring extent to which these songs are informed by the already-existing conventions of “indie” and the stylistic techniques of bands that epitomize the genre; but while, for instance, the slight rhythmic dressing of “Meantime” unavoidably brings to mind earlier work by Architecture in Helsinki, the association is never enough to prevent the band from making each moment of the song their own. In fact, the ability to take an area of modern music so widely traversed in recent years and push its creative limits to the breaking point is simultaneously GIVERS’ most endearing and surprising trait.

In Light on Insound

Caddywhompus: 06.22.2011

There are not many hard and fast principles when comes to seeing live music, but three rules seem to universally apply:

1. Drink your ass off at free shows
2. Buy merch from out-of-town acts
3. Always catch a local band at their first show back from tour

In the case of the show at the Big Top on June 22, all three applied. New Orleans noise pop band Caddywhompus, fresh off the first leg of their biggest road trip yet (one that included dates with burgeoning Lafayette band GIVERS), were briefly back in town to join California’s electrifying A Billion Ernies in kicking off the Community Records Summer Tour. ABE’s incredibly metal “Dolphin” tee made perfect fodder for Rule #2; and although the show wasn’t technically free, the modest cover charged at local venues is becoming more and more of a steal as the live prowess of Caddywhompus seems to grow exponentially by the day.

The rain-soaked crowd of young punks, mathrock lovers and indie fans – all recently infatuated with the duo’s confounding, seamless meld of moving melodicism, angular and avant-garde guitar work, and pummeling drum freak-outs – were practically foaming at the mouth to see what is, for all intents and purposes, the best band in the country.  Members Sean Hart and Chris Rehm seemed to realized this and appeared determined to one-up even their memorable performance at this year’s Block Party.

Though the tour from whence they’d just returned took them to far-reaching places (including Denver, where Rehm’s backpack containing a hard drive full of unreleased albums was stolen from their van), Caddywhompus showed no signs of fatigue. Instead, they appeared completely reenergized, bringing with them a swagger uncharacteristic for even these heroes of noise-pop: Hart had never been more intense or in time, nailing even the crashiest passages with precision and fluidly improvising through the occasional drumstick break or guitar strap malfunction.  Rehm, in turn, bobbed his head in perfect lockstep with the rhythm and made frequent trips to his stack to crank up the volume or catch huge waves of artfully applied feedback.  One curious consequence of the band’s newly-pronounced dynamism was the the transformation of the first half of “The Focus” – one of The Weight’s more straightforward moments – into what may have been the most brutally rewarding spectacle I’ve ever witnessed at a rock show.

The laid-back closing medley of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” and Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” capped a perfect example of why you should never miss a homecoming performance. Playing dozens of shows over consecutive days in front of geographically diverse audiences has the exact effect on a band’s music as you may expect: new songs sound more accomplished, old songs sound refreshed, and the band bleeds comfort and confidence from having learned the kinds of lessons about their music and themselves that only the road can teach.

photo courtesy of Connor Keyser

Live Picks: 06.23.2011 – 06.29.2011

06.23: Rotary Downs – Ogden Museum of Southern Art

06.24: Gravity A + Earfunk – Hookah

06.25: Generationals + Giant Cloud + Empress Hotel + Au Ras Au Ras – Tipitina’s

Even if you haven’t spent hours devouring their 2009 debut Con Law, their follow-up EP, Trust, or their latest full-length offering Actor-Castor, there is a good chance you have heard the musical stylings of Generationals Grant Widmer and Ted Joyner.  Since their time in Baton Rouge-based quintet The Eames Era, the two have been crafting the kind of breezy, retro-pop ear-worms that have not just caught the attention of fans and critics across the country, but also television show runners and the creative teams for some major advertising agencies.

But their music is more than just a good soundtrack for episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Bloomingdale’s holiday commercials.  Easy-going melodies and jangly odes to almost every noteworthy musical genre that sprouted up between 1950 and the late 1970s combine to provide a blissful backdrop for nearly any activity that comes to mind.

In a live setting, however, Widmer and Joyner are far less less quaint, beefing up their spacious studio sound with enormous drums and synth that give their already catchy songs enveloping sonic weight.  The two are also no strangers to a delay pedal, and are not afraid to launch into a fuzzed-out guitar jam if the moment is right.  This all adds up to a stage show that is at the same time as agreeable as one may expect, but also far more rollicking (as anyone who witnessed the band’s garden-dance-party inducing set at this year’s Jazz Fest will readily attest).

If that is not enough, Saturday will likely mark the final show for Giant Cloud, purveyors of some of the most delightful music ever caught on tape.  Lead vocalists Benjamin Jones and Julie Odell have probably forgotten more about bouncy, ethereal harmonies than most singers will ever know; and locals are sure to be elegiazing the shifty, dynamic space-pop Giant Cloud crafted for years to come.  Park The Van label-mates Empress Hotel and Au Ras Au Ras open.

MP3: Generationals: “You Say It Too”
MP3: Giant Cloud: “Old Books”

06.26: Andrew Duhon + Sun Hotel + Dominique LeJeune + Reid Martin + Alexis Marceaux – Breezy’s Spot

06.28: Cigarette + James Hayes + Dave Fera + Opposable Thumbs – Euclid Records

06.29: Kool Keith – Maison

Check out our New Orleans Music Calendar for a full slate of constantly updated live picks

Toastbeards: 06.20.2011

It’s hard to talk about Bayou Gauche-rock n’ rollers Toastbeards without mentioning the band’s Twitter account, helmed by guitarist and lead singer Rod Naquin.  It’s a swirling and existential stream that touches on physics, politics, technology, society, the subtleties of the English language, and the nuances of eastern and western religious thought.  It is difficult to find a patten among these sometimes confounding, other times enlightening missives except that they’re bound only by what Naquin may be thinking at any given moment.

This brand of old-fashioned, prolific spontaneity also pours through a Toastbeards’ live show, as Naquin’s expectedly out-there lyrics are held down by bluesy walking bass lines and lead guitarist Blake Brooks’ tendency to launch incendiary guitar solos into the stratosphere at a moment’s notice.  On June 20 at the AllWays Lounge, the band’s freewheelin’ style occasionally brought them to the brink of disorder, but the loose composition of songs about Alligator farmers and dogs running for mayor allowed plenty of room to improvise into and out of trouble.

The end result is a sound that seems almost hyper-modern in the way it is wholly uninformed by any notable musical movement of the last two decades.  There are no syncopated breakdowns, timing shifts or key changes; but absent, too, is the distracting air of put-on nostalgia that separates the the powerful throwback garage-rock of White Denim from the politely curated retro-stylings of The Black Crowes.  Toastbeards’ music also lacks the reactionary bent of new wave punk or grunge, as these tunes do not sound like they were made as a reaction to 80s and 90s popular music. They sound as if that particular music never even existed in the first place.