Live Picks: 04.26.2012 – 05.02.2012

04.26: Vox and the Hound + Gold and the Rush + The Jonesbirds + Sports & Leisure – The Hookah

04.27: Givers + Habitat – One Eyed Jacks

It’s practically a no-brainer that on a week which neatly serves as a backdrop to the first three days of Jazz Fest, that the New Orleans late night music calendar will be bursting at the seems with dynamically talented musicians of every genre vying for the attention of those festivalgoers with the gumption to take the entire experience to its logical extremes. As a consequence, many artists – finding themselves pulling two performances a day (one at the Fest and one after) – are running on the very same kinetic energy as those brave and untiring audiences.

But perhaps no doubleheader of Jazz Fest’s first weekend has the potential to be as thrilling as that of GIVERS, a Lafayette-based indie pop group that really needs no introduction in this area of the country. As anyone even casually aware of the national indie rock zeitgeist knows, the past two years have seen this young band on a creative and touring tear through every section of North America and parts of Europe and as a result they’ve virtually become branded by their pitch perfect live endurance. Lighthearted, upbeat and masterfully instrumental, the five-piece – led by male/female vocal duo Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson – perfectly embodies the balance between uproarious stage spectacle and the joy of audience enthusiasm-inspired accessibility.

On Friday night, after a 3:45pm set at Jazz Fest’s Gentilly Stage, GIVERS will be making their way to One Eyed Jacks for an evening with local on-the-rise experimental noise pop trio Habitat, presented by SimplePlay Productions and WTUL.

MP3: GIVERS: “Saw You First”

MP3: Habitat: “Miracle of Deafness (Live from Bedroom Sessions)”

04.28: Empress Hotel + Mahayla + Bantam Foxes – Circle Bar

04.29: Billy Iuso & the Restless Natives – Sandpiper Lounge

04.30: The Bruisers + O.L.D. + Bunny & the Playboys – Circle Bar

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

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“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and Questions of Avant-Garde

Though it may be surprising to find ourselves realizing that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the 2002 offering from Chicago-based Americana heroes Wilco, has already turned ten years old, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that, after ten years, we are still reflecting on, raving about, arguing over and debating the album, its surrounding controversy and its place in the western music pantheon. The Story, as it is now known to practically everyone who fancies himself a conscientious member of the music obsessed in this day and age, isn’t worth retreading after a decade that has looked so deeply retroactive at the five or so Midwestern men that unassumingly holed themselves up in a loft in the Fall of 2000, save to say that the seminal album they reemerged with a year later marks a musical flashpoint in a tumultuous vacuum of American History, of which the destruction of the Twin Towers, the crumbling of the major music industry, the global financial crisis and the rise of the Internet are each an intertwined part.

The fascinating road over which Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s lore has traversed in the years since its release leads, almost inevitably, to a conclusion that it is one of the most important works of the aughts. You’ll routinely hear it mentioned by both critics and audiences alike as being such, and one cursory listen will indicate why that is the case. The question at this point, really, isn’t whether YHF is one of the all-time greats, but why. In short, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is arguably one of the best albums ever conceived because it is the singular representative piece of avant-garde art of its decade, a statement that undoubtedly poses more questions than answers since – Good God – what does that even mean?

Earlier this year I had a completely unrelated conversation with my younger brother Ryan, a guitarist, wherein he, when asked what his next project will sound like, told me, “It’ll be some experimental stuff with an indie rock feel.” When I later had opportunity to sample some of his new project, what I actually heard was something vastly different – at least in my mind – from what he’d described. In particular, there was no genuine experimentalism to be found. Unsurprisingly, what I witnessed was the Subjectivism we both apply to the definition of “experimental”: Where I was looking for something about the writing and recording process untried, untested or “out-of-the-box”, Ryan was (maybe unconsciously) referencing something more akin to the music of Explosions in the Sky, a band that, though at one time made music generally regarded as “experimental”, the emulation of whom in the year 2012 could hardly be considered an experiment.

Later this year I had a vastly more related conversation with my co-editor, Matt, in writing a live review of Cass McCombs, a chameleonic musician who I suppose could be likened to folk, or rock, or alt country, though none of those terms describes him with any real accuracy. Nevertheless, the crux of the article was that McCombs, using the traditional instrumentation of alt country – guitar, bass, piece-pared drums, pedal steel and a little assortment of keys – seems to push the boundaries to a certain extent of what it means to be alt country, without crossing out of or transgressing from the traditional paradigm of the genre. Naturally, the review was terrible because it was ill-executed on the faulty premise that Cass McCombs is even an alt country musician to begin with.

In the course of the article though, I passed an almost obligatory reference to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, wherein I hinted at – though not outright declared – the fact that no one had successfully made an avant-garde alt country record. Matt, a Chicago native and Wilco fanatic himself, said, “I happen to think that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is avant-garde”, which I disagreed with.  He proffered the fact that YHF is generally regarded as an avant-garde record, which I said I understood but still disagreed with.

Though something of a philosophical (and probably very subjective) standstill it was, neither of us had a great reason for either opinion:

Matt: “Listen to the intro of ‘Poor Places’. Listen to all the subtle miscellaneous undertones in ‘War on War’. I think of that as deconstructionism, which I think makes the record avant-garde.”

Taylor: “It just doesn’t sit well with me. I think of that as a creative apex, which I guess could be avant-garde if the genre itself had no integrity beforehand.”

Of course, we were both wrong, though at the time neither of us would have understood why because we were also both right, just for the wrong reasons.

When placed in the company of every Wilco record (and Uncle Tupelo record, for that matter) up to 2002, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is no doubt the odd disc out. Compared to the standard fare sheen of A.M. and Being There, or the rather more produced gloss of Summerteeth, YHF‘s bare Tweedy vocals à la Loose Fur, subtly metered instrumental virtuosity and soft tinny textures presented a marked shifted from the Wilco trajectory, if not an unequivocal jump into a new genre altogether. In fact, it was literally just that: a band of alt country veterans had decided to end the 1990s by trying its hand in the arena of bona fide alternative rock.

The general belief in YHF‘s avant-gardism can most likely be traced back to Sam Jones’ documentary film I’m Trying To Break Your Heart, a chronicle in which Wilco can be seen to take the writing and recording process of the record very seriously while band members indelicately talk about its differences from their past work. We see Jay Bennett toying with a deluge of different instruments and little gadgets he either purchased or created, the sounds of which find themselves embedded in tracks like “Poor Places”, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “Ashes of American Flags” – subjectively, what some might call experimentation. We’re given a tortured glimpse into Jeff Tweedy’s incapacitating migraines. We also see Tweedy become the self-decided auteur of the record in spite of Bennett’s co-writer status on the great majority of the songs, and we’re shown the artistic and personal relationships between the two disintegrate as a result.

Do the somewhat superficial sonic details of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot arrive at something akin to avant-gardism, as it is generally regarded? It’s ridiculous to suggest that no one in the history of rock and roll had ever laid abstract noise over a standard rock song before Wilco, and simply doing so in the early 2000s can’t be considered avant-garde on its face. By my standards, it isn’t even experimental. Whereas I think the modern, pseudo-intellectual perception of avant-gardism involves an artist merely playing around with something apparently new to him or to his narrow audience, a traditional reading of the definition at least contemplates a decided experimentation that results in a legitimate pushing of customary boundaries. Even if the members of Wilco were decidedly experimental in their approach to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it’d be hard to make the argument that the record pushed any sonic boundaries. After all, any band – before or after that record – that writes in the vein of alt country sounds ostensibly like Wilco. Musicians might find themselves inspired by Wilco, but in no way would it cause this record to rise to a level above a standard rock album in the way that punk bands of the seventies were inspired by the Stooges’ Raw Power. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot may simply be a really good rock album, even one of the best rock albums of the decade, but simply adding abstractions to an otherwise well-established broth in an overly serious or mature fashion does not on its face avant-garde something make.

It’s by this measure that I Am Trying To Break Your Heart is either a deft or clueless piece of audience misdirection. While it invites us to witness the purported experimental leanings of the band in the studio crafting what would become their crowning achievement, true avant-garde exists in the subtext of Wilco’s relations with Reprise Records and the stupefying new way in which that relationship yielded the record’s universal acclaim and success. Of course, Reprise shelved the record and dropped the band upon hearing it, it would seem because of the tone-deafness of the existing major label establishment embodied in David Kahne (probably most famous nowadays for producing some really popular bands’ more mediocre work including Sublime’s Sublime, Sugar Ray’s 14:59 and the Strokes’ First Impressions of Earth). However, that detail operates more as a thrilling rock and roll anecdote, containing nearly as much second-hand embellishment as my spontaneous contention that the death of Brainiac lead singer Tim Taylor in 1997 is the only reason Jim O’Rourke and Jeff Tweedy ever crossed paths.

News Briefs: Festival Season Edition

With the very successful French Quarter Fest and Block Party now behind us, we’re knee-deep in Festival Season® 2012. Here are a few quick hits to dig on before Jazz Fest kicks us square in the teeth.

Positive-minded bounce rapper Lucky Lou has released the official video for this anti-violence theme “Stomp The Violence”, the second single off his 2011 EP Intersection.  Lucky Lou will be appearing at the 7th Annual Noizefest in the Bywater on May 6, 2012.

Dr. Michael White, classical jazz clarinetist extraordinaire, will release his new album Adventures In New Orleans Jazz, Part 2 on June 19, 2012.  The collection of original compositions and trad re-imaginings of some of Hank Williams, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Janis Joplin’s biggest hits will be his sixth release on Basin Street Records.  Along with his yearly spot at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Dr. White will be appearing at the free International Jazz Day Concert on April 30, 2012 at Armstrong Park.

After over four years writing and recording, seminal instrumental space rockers Chef Menteur have released East Of The Sun West of The Moon, the long awaited follow-up to 1997’s breakthrough The Answer’s In Forgetting. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the double album is available on 150g individually numbered vinyl from Backporch Revolution Records as well as digitally via CDBaby.

A group of Loyola music students have organized a new 3-day festival that will celebrate the diversity and virtuosity of New Orleans’ experimental, improvisational, and avant garde jazz musicians.  Search and Restore will take place April 30 – May 2 and features a lineup that includes free jazz heavyweights Simon Lott, Helen Gillet, Mike Dillon Justin Peake and many more.

New Orleans’ latest musical transplant, Ryan Leavelle, released The Doomed Traveler on April 12 via Community Records, under the monicker See You In Mexico. The Billion Ernies front man eschews his band’s well-established skacore roots as he tries his hand at a folk-punk-busker concept, flexing his multi-instrumental talents and bringing in a varied group of musical collaborators.

Photoset // Community Records Block Party: 04.21.2012

A Billion Ernies, All People, B L A C K I E, Brunt Of It, Caddywhompus, Choi Wolf, Controller, Dominique LeJeune, Good Luck, Habitat, Joystick, Left Alone, Mad Conductor, Maddie Ruthless, Matt Wixon’s Flying Circus, Murphy’s Kids, Mustard Plug, Safety, and The Lollies performing at The Big Top on April 21, 2012 for the 2012 Community Records Block Party

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Preview // 3rd Annual Daze Between Festival

For some, long days at the Fairgrounds and late nights at their favorite rock club for seven days over two weekends are not enough to satisfy their Jazz Fest-induced live music jones.  Enter the Daze Between Festival, lodged between the first and second weekend of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which returns to the Rusty Nail for the third straight year.

This time around the event returns to it’s origins as a one-day affair, but the modest courtyard stage of festivals past is being replaced by a full-scale outdoor set-up, making room for bona fide full band performances inside and out.  Daze Between veteran Papa Mali will return to headline the day-long tribute to the music of The Grateful Dead, while the diverse group of “Friends” who will end up joining him could include any combination of the talented motley crew he runs with.  As Mali currently tours with Bill Kreutzmann and New Orleans living legend George Porter, Jr. (as 7 Walkers), and has shared the stage with everyone from Willie Nelson to Burning Spear, his have always been performances notorious for exciting pop-ins and unexpected cameos.

Also returning from last year are the Honey Island Swamp Band, Colorado jam band Frogs Gone Fishin‘, members of San Franscisco’s Tea Leaf Green and the Iko All-Stars (featuring Billy Iuso, former Radiators Reggie Scanlon, CR Gruver and Gravity A‘s Mike Foo). Jimmy Leslie, the Mike Dillon Band, Dave Jordan and TheSoulswampbillyboogieband round out the lineup, while the ghost of the Rads will be further represented by guitarist Camile Baudoin and his newest project The Living Rumors.

The music starts at 3pm on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 and a portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the Gulf Restoration Network.  NOLA Brewing and Sailor Jerry are sponsoring the event, and vendors will offer hot boiled crawfish, Woody’s Fish Tacos, McClure’s Barbeque, and plenty of fresh shucked oysters.

Daze Between Festival on Facebook

Live Picks: 04.19.2012 – 04.25.2012

04.19: Arrah & The Ferns + Little Maker + ArchAnimals – Circle Bar

04.20: Sun Hotel – Ampersand

04.21: The Tontons + Major Major Major + The Beams – Circle Bar

In it’s fifth incarnation as the Gulf South’s can’t-miss punk event of the year, the Community Records Block Party is a shining paradigm of how to go homegrow a DIY culture without losing any of the ethic associated with it. Though having taken the “all day long” formula to its logical peak last year with a stacked indoor-outdoor lineup and a phenomenal headlining set by ska/punk/prog legends the Rx Bandits, the subtle evolvements to be seen this year are less the result of an obligatory urge to expand than they are a manifestation of the growing numbers of artists both in front and behind the scenes who aspire to what Community Records has already achieved and who simply want to contribute. Consequently, this year’s pre- and post-Block Party festivities only serve to further highlight the depths of New Orleans’ underground rock and punk community. And though it’s hard to spotlight only one – what, with the Breezys boys opening their doors up to the likes of Informant and the Switchers on Friday afternoon, Sun Hotel playing a pool party at Ampersand later that night and the Big Top (the scene of the whole event) hosting punk shows on Sunday and Monday right when you think it’s all said and done – Chinquapin Records‘ Block Party After Party will be, if you can muster the physical energy, the must-see show of the weekend aside from the obvious 12-hour festival around which the entire weekend is based.

It can be strangely enthralling, the experience of seeing and hearing Houston’s the Tontons, a band brimming with talent but operating with no particular angle of contemporariness (unless of course being a barefaced amalgam of its members’ influences is an “angle”). Though this might put them at odds with the hyper-modern approach to making music that characterizes much of the artistry in their hometown, a live performance from this quartet is often simply an exercise in interesting (though not necessarily groundbreaking) songwriting and perfection in execution: a high register, R&B-informed voice in songstress Asli Omar; dynamic multi-genre guitar work – ranging from jazz to shoegaze to calypso to indie – from Adam Martinez; and a robust, airtight rhythm section composed of Adam’s brother Justin on drums and Tom Nguyen on bass.

The Tontons haven’t been through down in about eight months, not since their planned appearance at Chinquapin Records’ first Chindig was cancelled due to weather and scheduling conflicts. However, they’ve picked the perfect weekend to reemerge in the New Orleans underground. Immediately following Block Party (which, while we’re on the topic, features another Houstonian, prodigious earache rapper B L A C K I E), the Tontons will headline a late night aftershow at the Circle Bar along side local power pop four-piece the Beams and Austin-based psychedelic punk act Major Major Major.

MP3: The Tontons: “Leon”

Mp3: Major Major Major: “Peace Love Darkness”

04.22: Small Bones + Reagabomb + Mea Cupla – The Big Top

04.23: Loma Prieta + Choi Wolf + Donovan Wolfington + High in One Eye – The Big Top

04.24: Bob Log III + Mr. Free and The Satellite Freakouts + King Louie’s One Man Band – Siberia

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