Archive for April, 2009

The Black Keys @ The Fox Theater. 4.18.09

April 21, 2009

theblackkeysI could have sung their praises ‘til the cows came home. I could have raved about that blues-rock resurgence no one else seems to be doing these days. I could have admitted that, even though I’d already seen them twice, I’m still amazed so much sound can be created by just two guys. And how a show of theirs is, in the words of Meatloaf, like nothing you’ve ever seen before or will again. I could even have commented on Auerbach’s shirt, an embroidered blue number worthy of a Western, the mournful eyes that mirror his raspy “done me wrong” vocals, the beard that could make most men retire their razors.

I could have. If I hadn’t missed half the show. And before you berate me for not being on time, know this: I have been to my fair share of shows, and I abide by the same standard to which most loyal concertgoers subscribe. An equally astonished audience told me that even if we had arrived at 8 p.m. sharp, we still wouldn’t have been satisfied. I caught about five songs before Auerbach said “thanks a lot, see you next time,” my jaw dropped, and incredulity set in. At first I entertained the illusion they would award their adoring fans with a ludicrously long encore, a la MMJ’s legendary fall ‘08 performance at the Greek, whose seven-song addendum clocked in at a whopping 43 minutes. Instead, they played the requisite two songs and peaced out. Was it the venue? Perhaps the Fox Theater adheres to an unrelenting timetable that musicians are unable to overturn? Or are The Black Keys getting too big for their britches? Did Auerbach need to rush back to work on some more solo material, which I enjoy immensely but which sounds suspiciously not so different from what he does with drummer Patrick Carney? Was it merely an ill-fated ploy to keep fans wanting more, like waiting the obligatory three days before calling a girl?

I can tell you what I know, which isn’t much. Since it’s hard to see clearly through the haze of my rage right now, I will focus on the one fault I could find: “Psychotic Girl.” That’s right, I said it. Granted, it was the only song that sounded better on the recording. As much as the pair purports to scorn big studios and stay true to a live, stripped-down sound, what additional work that went into this track—the trademark banjo, haunting piano riff, and choir of ghosts you hear on the record—added a certain je ne sais quoi to the tune, and without these elements something was lost. Of course, they got it right back as soon as they launched into the final song of the too-short set, “Till I Get My Way,” but that’s a story for another day—and for a less disgruntled writer.

Yeah, they rocked the shit out of that half hour. But if I am going to venture from SF to Oakland on a Saturday night to see one of my favorite bands of all time, I sure as hell don’t want to be back before midnight, forced to finish the concert I didn’t hear in the car by playing “Attack and Release” on the stereo, closing my eyes, and picturing the stage in my mind…then drown my sorrows in Pliny the Elder at The Page when all I really wanted to do was see that Akron duo play a full set.

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Dr. Dog @ The Fillmore. 4.16.09

April 17, 2009

dr.dogI can’t say what impressed me more about Dr. Dog last night: that they executed mellifluous harmonies with startling precision in a live setting, or that they actually attempt such feats at all—and manage to do it without coming off sounding like an all-male collegiate a cappella group trying to form a band. Or too much like the Beach Boys. Being the first time I’d seen them perform, I will admit that I did not know what to expect—and they surpassed my unformed expectations anyway.

Upon initial inspection, I suspected they had stolen Rachael Yamagata’s Spring Fling ensemble from Slim’s a couple weeks ago: branches swathed in strands of blossoms wrapped with twinkling lights, faux vines creeping over all the mikes, even a keyboard disguised in fresh pine in an effort to approximate a nascent wood. Why all of this feminine flair for a five-piece man band? The answer lies in the dual nature of Dr. Dog.

What makes this band so compelling is the mix of seemingly disparate components they bring together to make a sound that’s truly unique (which also might be the definition of a paradox). Take the two lead vocalists, for example: Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken. While Leaman belts, growls, and wails the darker songs with a pain so potent it’s almost physical, McMicken intones an innocence affirmed not only by his higher, almost child-like vocals but by his youthful visage as well. Leaman provides catharsis while McMicken gives us relief from all that emotional purging.

Watching these two trade off songs, I couldn’t help but draw the obvious allusion to Cain and Abel. In the simplest of terms, Leaman embodies evil as much McMicken goads what is good. Hard-bodied Leaman certainly looks like he’s trying harder to win the audience’s admiration, sweating and straining through his songs (like “The Beach”, as evidenced by his soaked-through T-shirt), while the slight, endearingly young-looking McMicken literally breezes through his numbers, cool as a cucumber in his blue button-down and shades. And the audience sure goes wild for McMicken’s cheerful tunes.

Despite this duality, there is a marked cohesion to the band that brought this show from good to great. These guys exerted raw energy from the get-go, hopping and skipping nonstop, adding a welcome effervescence to songs that, apparently, the studio somehow domesticated. Anything but tame, Leaman dropped dramatically to the ground before launching into “Die Die Die,” and McMicken played so hard he busted a string during the second song of the encore, “My Old Ways.” But this show was not just a testament to Dr. Dog’s pure theatricality; the band also proved their technical chops. Not a single jaunt across the stage affected the accuracy of their playing, although it certainly added to the quality of the performance.

Much of Dr. Dog’s appeal lies in their ability to temper the syrupy sweetness of their lush harmonies with harsher elements, like heavy guitar or a driving drum beat. Similarly, you wonder if McMicken’s more pop-based ballads would be quite as fulfilling without the juxtaposition of Leaman’s bluesy laments. I think not. In the end, you’re convinced they are having so much fun up there that Cain is not going to kill Abel after all.

Bands Like Girls With Bangs

April 16, 2009

Welcome to my blog,  Bands Like Girls With Bangs.  First things first.  No, this is not a blog about bangs, nor is this exclusively a blog about female artists.  This is a blog about bangs as an indie icon–and the music that occupies that space.  About the fringe benefits of taking the path less traveled, racing the open road in the middle of the desert, and expanding your musical horizon.  Stay tuned.

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