Narcissy: 08.02.2012

The first thing I noticed upon walking into The Big Top last Thursday night was how great everything sounded in what is normally an acoustically quirky and unpredictable room.  One look at the stage explained everything, as front-and-center, relentlessly wailing on an electric guitar and crooning about how much he hates the south through a devilish grin was Jay Holland, the longtime front of house guru who helps make One Eyed Jacks the best room in the city to catch live music.

He was fronting cowpunkish rockers Narcissy, a band of scene veterans who have spent the better part of the last decade sporadically subverting genre titles and gently offending the sensibilities of more mild-mannered local concertgoers.  With bassist Anthony Donado and drummer Bill Rachel, the power trio unleashed a hilarious (and hilariously nimble) set that was equal parts experimental performance art piece and downright devastating rock n’ roll masterclass.

They bounced between every conceivable style and mood even before the band ditched their setlist in favor of a choose-your-own-adventure format in which Holland sifted through the Narcissy canon by asking the enthusiastic crowd questions like “Do you want a country song or a metal song?” and “Do you want to hear a Neil Young song or a song about Neil Young?”.  But no matter what kind of music they settled on, the rhythm section was tight, the vocal harmonies were bracing, and bouts of outlandish on-stage theatrics alternatively highlighted and brilliantly obscured the true virtuosity baked into even deceptively straightforward numbers.

There was something thrilling about watching these hyper-musically literate old pros manhandle their instruments, and an even more encompassing feeling of glee took hold when it became clear the players on stage were free from the confines of any one particular musical vocabulary.  These guys could play anything – southern roots rock, avant-garde drone, alternative country, light psychedelia – and did so with an unflinching panache that could have passed for insolent arrogance if Holland and co. didn’t consistently appear to be having even more fun than the truly delighted audience.

Live Picks: 08.09.2012 – 08.15.2012

08.09: The Eastern Sea + Native America + Sharks’ Teeth – One Eyed Jacks

Although their last trip to New Orleans was just a little over a month ago, it feels like The Eastern Sea we’re talking about right now are a completely different monster than the group who passed through town at the beginning of July.  There was no doubt plenty to be said about one of Austin’s most impressive exports leading up to that particular gig (a Carrollton Station show that marked Vox And The Hound‘s homecoming and the back half of a co-headlining doubleheader  between the two bands), as their ornate mix of spacey folk and atmospheric post-rock has been flooring listeners pretty much since the day lead singer Matt Hines began self-producing meticulously sprawling soundscapes in his bedroom in 2005.

And if you had the pleasure of seeing The Easter Sea help local heroes Sun Hotel release Coast at One Eyed Jacks in the fall of 2010, or perhaps caught a snippet of the ever expanding and contracting orchestra at South By Southwest or CMJ in recent years, you would have had good reason to be excited for their valiant return to town last month. But in only thirty days time an Eastern Sea performance has gone from highly recommended to nothing short of required, appointment viewing.  They killed at Carrollton Station, the new album they just put out is an all-consuming masterpiece and their current 7-piece touring outfit perfectly navigates the tension-filled narratives and robust instrumental panoramas of the long-awaited Plague with an expressive energy that adds yet another dimension to the dazzling compositions on their full-length debut.

The bill for Thursday night’s early show will be something of a reunion of the aforementioned One Eyed Jacks show of almost two years ago.  But instead of sharing the stage with Sun Hotel, The Eastern Sea will receive support from the band’s two spacey off-shoots: Native America – comprised of Sun Hotel’s John St. Cyr and Ross Farbe along with Country Club’s Ray Micarelli – and Sharks’ Teeth – the experimental noise project of uber-prolific Sun Hotel front man Tyler Scurlock.

MP3: The Eastern Sea: “Santa Rosa”

08.11: Gravity A – One Eyed Jacks

08.12: Glish + Self Help Tapes + No Clouds – The Big Top

08.14: Canadian Rifle + Adults + Heat Dust – United Bakery

08.15: Shovels and Rope + MyNameIsJohnMichael + Folk Family Revival – One Eyed Jacks

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

Live Picks: 07.12.2012 – 07.18.2012

07.12: Mahayla + Lovey Dovies + The Tangle – Siberia

07.13: Bass Drum of Death + DZ Deathrays – One Eyed Jacks

07.14: Sabotage: A Tribute To The Beastie Boys – One Eyed Jacks

Calling Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys’ critically revered 1989 masterpiece, the best/your favorite/the most influential Beastie Boys album is one of the more exquisitely well-worn cliches available to consumers of popular music. That so many who spend even a modicum of time discussion the medium in public or private – ourselves included – seem to have no problems indulging this cliche speaks truth to just how seminal of a work that album really was.

In just their second official release, Adrock, Mike D, and the dearly departed MCA changed the landscape of modern hip hop with a dense, experimental opus that influenced everyone from Beck to Girl Talk (not bad considering the group’s introduction to the mass market was either as the novelty act drunkenly warming up the crowd during Madonna’s Like A Virgin tour or the deceptively talented white dudes rapping about beer on License To Ill).  But Paul’s Boutique was only the beginning, as the Beasties Boys embarked on a classic-after-classic run rivaling that of even rock and roll legends like Led Zeppelin and the Who, infusing their hardcore roots, admiration of jazz and funk, and reverence for the East Coast hip hop tradition to build a catalog as diverse as it is timeless.

So there may be no more fitting a subject for a tribute than the Beastie Boys, and few cities possess the revered history and active culture of no-holds-barred musical fusion to do their spirit justice like New Orleans. The line up for the main event at Saturday’s multimedia extravaganza includes some of the most genre-bending fringe artists in the city, including Matt Peoples and Drew Meez of the Gravity A / P.Y.M.P. / M@ Peoples Collective electro-psychedelic hip hop family, Blake Quick and Russel Olschner of funked-out party-rockers Flow Tribe, and local mash-up king Jermaine Quiz. The event will open with a string ensemble’s take on some classics as well as troubadour extraordinaire Micah McKee giving some Beastie hits the acoustic treatment.

MP3: Beastie Boys: “Remote Control”

07.15: Sun Hotel + JAG – Twist

07.16: Glish + Dead Mellotron + Troubadour Dali – Circle Bar

07.18: Classy Nude + High In One Eye + ArchAnimals – Howlin’ Wolf Den

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

Preview // 2012 Hangout Music Festival

After last year assembling the platonic ideal of an outdoor festival in only their second go ’round –  dropping a knockout lineup and perfectly sized crowd onto one of the best conceivable settings for a live music event – The Hangout Music Festival returns to the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores this weekend.  The third edition offers another eclectic mix of arena-ready headliners, regional favorites and the ubiquitous electronic dance music purveyors, this time spread out over an expanded footprint that puts the fairgrounds on both sides of main drag Beach Blvd.

Organizers have also dispensed with a schedule of official after-shows in favor of a kick-off party on Thursday.  Almost eight hours of music on each of two stages turns the Festival into a four-day affair for those arriving early and adds standouts like Big Gigantic (winners of this year’s Buku Music and Art Project), Boombox, and our own Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Revivalists to the weekend’s bill.  A comfortably spaced schedule and limited number of stages almost eliminates anxiety-inducing mortal conflicts, but we’ve still put together a short list of acts that come highly recommended.

5/18: Alabama Shakes – Chevrolet Stage, 2:15PM

Rarely does New Orleans (or anywhere in the Gulf South, for that matter) get included on the early-buzz circuit that sweeps the “The Next Big Thing” to sold-out showcases in the Brooklyns, Austins, Los Angeleses, and Londons of the world.  While the deft promoters and talent buyers in our city have a knack for catching bands before they blow up as well as bringing a continuously impressive string of de rigeour national acts to town, The Alabama Shakes‘ January visit to One Eyed Jacks hot on the heels of their successful CMJ run and subsequent signing to ATO and Rough Trade felt like an extra special treat – the timing of which was likely equal parts savvy booking and just plain dumb luck.

Playing an early show to a crowd as large as any we’ve ever seen packed into the French Quarter’s premiere rock club, the Alabama Shakes torched the stage with the raw fury of a band about as wide-eyed and excitable as the diverse audience assembled to get a sneak peek at the much-talked about southern roots rockers.  Lead singer Brittany Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell went well beyond validating the Shakes’ status as band of the moment with a performance that overflowed with virtuosity and charm, and it’s exciting to think what they may pull off on their home turf with a few months of high pressure gigs under their belts.

5/19: Dr. Dog – “Letting Go” Stage, 4:15PM

If you’re the type who perpetually thinks about music in terms of “the zeitgeist”, then unfortunately there’s a good chance that you’ve either never closely listened to Dr. Dog or simply disregarded them. Nevertheless, this Philadelphia group’s charm has always been their ability to craft songs as attentive to pop accessibility as they are to creative high-mindedness. While not the cataclysmic, industry-changing creations that get routinely credited to the Animal Collectives and Arcade Fires and White Stripeses of the world, the music waxed by Dr. Dog – songs that end up being traded, e-mailed, linked and placed on countless playlists and mixes – is more akin to a catalog of indie rock radio hits, sans the radio or any real criterion point for what constitutes a “hit”.

But then again, I doubt Dr. Dog have ever given much thought to their place in such a zeitgeist, and in that capacity these guys probably aren’t making music for us wannabe patricianists. À la The Band circa Cahoots, existing both within and decidedly outside of the artiste-driven national musical climate surrounding them, Dr. Dog rides a whimsical creative model for the type of band whose true colors one can really only experience in a stage setting with a revelrous atmosphere capable of matching their unique penchant for the free energy of unpretentious rock and roll. Unsurprisingly, the Gulf Coast has often been, aside from the Philly area itself, a perfect entry point for Dr. Dog’s unfettered live mix of pop, psychedelia and multi-instrumental virtuosity, and the opportunity to see them on the Hangout Fest pedestal on late Saturday afternoon should not be missed.

5/20: Mavis Staples – Chevrolet Stage, 1:45PM

The most emotionally charged moment of this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival came at the very start of what was supposed to be the first of two scheduled appearances by soul and R&B legend Mavis Staples.  She kicked off her Friday afternoon set in the Gospel tent with a rousing rendition of The Band’s “The Weight”, evoking her standout performance in the seminal concert flick The Last Waltz. At the song’s conclusion, Staples raised her arms to the sky and repeatedly shouted “Levon Helm!” as the standing-room only crowd rose to their feet and cheered wildly in a celebratory eulogy that lasted a full three minutes.  It was just weeks since the venerable drummer and vocalist, with whom Staples was slated to share the stage the very next day, had passed away; and of all the Jazz Fest tributes Helm inspired, her’s was the most moving and impassioned.

Along with the rest of her wide ranging set, that moment demonstrated the enduring power of Mavis Staples’ voice as well as her effortlessly wonderful sensibilities, both musical and otherwise.  After over 45 years at the front of the one of the most influential spirituality-based groups of all time in The Staples Singers and after appearing on the recorded work of everyone from Bob Dylan to Los Lobos, Mavis is once again in the midst of yet another creative renaissance after winning her first Grammy for last year’s Jeff Tweedy-produced Americana album You Are Not Alone. Plus, with Wilco in town for a their own Friday slot at Hangout, the potential for a surprise cameo (in one way or another) is at an all time high.

 

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