The Evil Generation

Tuesday, January 31

Last Post for Now

Ok so I haven't done very well with keeping this blog updated, being busy with a band and a cat and whatnot now, but I figured I should at least post my top albums of 2005 list. I may not post here again for a while, or ever, but for now here's the list of my top 25 albums of 2005:

1. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday
2. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
3. The Ashtray Hearts - Perfect Halves
4. Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
5. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
6. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
7. Broken Social Scene - s/t
8. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
9. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
10. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
11. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - s/t
12. The Decemberists - Picaresque
13. Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now
14. Rogue Wave - Descended Like Vultures
15. Sigur Ros - Takk...
16. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
17. Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering
18. The Rosebuds - Birds Make Good Neighbors
19. Stars - Set Yourself on Fire
20. My Morning Jacket - Z
21. Ryan Adams - Cold Roses
22. Animal Collective - Feels
23. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans
24. M. Ward - Transistor Radio
25. Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die

When it came down to it, that Hold Steady album kicked my ass all year, and it just had to be #1. It may not hold up the best of all over time, and I wouldn't be suprised if Okkervil River, Wolf Parade, or The Ashtray Hearts eventually become my favorite, but I must have listened to The Hold Steady far more than any other album this year. Most people probably haven't heard of The Ashtray Hearts, but they're a band from Minneapolis that put out an amazing album that was widely underappreciated even in the local press. I highly recommend anyone who's a fan of alt-country or folk check it out.

Releases that were disqualified from the list but were still great, in no particular order:
Belle and Sebastian - Push Barman to Open Old Wounds (EP compilation)
Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister (live recording)
Iron & Wine - Woman King EP
Iron & Wine with Calexico - In the Reins EP
Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy Appendix EP
Wilco - Kickin' Television (live album)

Worst/Most Disappointing of the year:
1. Mike Doughty - Haughty Melodic
Really just terrible, there are only a few songs on the album that I can even stand listening to. I actually enjoyed the live versions of most of these songs, but the recording just killed them, which makes it even worse.
2. The Fiery Furnaces - Rehearsing My Choir
Did anyone really enjoy listening to this more than once for the novelty value? Blueberry Boat was great, and I'll give them credit for trying something ambitious, but seriously, WTF were they thinking?
3. Matt Pond PA - Several Arrows Later
I enjoyed Emblems quite a bit, but this is one of those annoying albums that not only do I dislike, but makes me dislike a band's previous work more too.
4. Beck - Guero
Maybe he was thinking that putting songs of all the different styles he's done in the past onto one album would sound like a greatest hits album that never was, but this album sounds more like a bunch of leftovers that were rightfully excluded from his past albums. They did sound better when I saw him live, so maybe part of my dislike of this disc is due to the production.
5. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
Maybe I just don't get it, all the critics loved this album but just can't get into it. Could be something I get into in a few years, but it doesn't do much for me now.

I guess that's all for now. Maybe if I get around to it I'll post a list/mixtape of my favorite songs of 2005 sometime, or maybe not. Long live the evil generation.

Saturday, November 26

It's All Gonna Break

So I suppose it's been a while since I've updated my blog, over a month actually. I've been pretty busy with various projects, but I've still been out to see quite a few shows. I just haven't had time to write about them. Since I'm so far behind, I'm not going to be able to write reviews. I'll actually be doing well if I'm able to list all the shows I've been to since my last post, but I'll give it a try:

10/21 - The Decemberists at First Ave
10/22 - The New Pornographers were supposed to play at First Ave, but sadly the show was cancelled after their bassist got sick.
10/28 - I went down to Madison for the Halloween weekend and saw My Morning Jacket at the Annex
10/29 - Also at the Annex in Madison, saw The Hold Steady with The Constantines and Thunderbirds Are Now! openning
11/5 - Okkervil River and Minus Story at the 400 Bar
11/6 - Jeff Tweedy at First Avenue
11/10 - Was planning on seeing the Shout Out Louds at the Varsity, but the show sold out and I didn't have advance tickets
11/23 - Rogue Wave, The Hopefuls, and Kubla Khan at the Triple Rock

All of these shows were good, really the only band I've seen that I didn't like was Kubla Khan on Wednesday, who opened for The Hopefuls and Rogue Wave. They were without a doubt a jam band, and I hate jam bands. They really didn't fit with the other bands either, but the rest of the show was great so I can't complain.

I think the highlights of these shows were probably The Decemberists, The Hold Steady in Madison on Halloween, and Jeff Tweedy solo, but I enjoyed the other shows too. Somehow though I either managed to forget my camera or not get close enough to get a decent shot at all of these shows. So instead of posting concert photos, here are some pictures of a cute kitten named Buffy that I'm taking care of for a friend:

Wednesday, October 19

3 Nights at First Avenue

Last week I spent three nights in a row in the First Avenue main room. What would cause me to do something that crazy? Well here was the lineup:

Tuesday, 10/11: Death Cab for Cutie
Wednesday, 10/12: Mike Doughty
Thursday, 10/13: Son Volt

So this set the stage for an epic musical battle for supremacy over First Ave between Ben Gibbard, Mike Doughty, and Jay Farrar. Here are pictures of the combatants:

Ben Gibbard

Mike Doughty

Jay Farrar

And the winner is...Jay Farrar, by a landslide. The Son Volt show was terrific and far exceeded my expectations, while I didn't enjoy the other shows nearly as much. Part of the problem is that both Death Cab and Doughty were sold out, I seemed to get stuck in a bad part of the crowd, and the doors were at 8 so they both went past midnight. On the other hand, the Son Volt show was pretty full but not totally packed, and the doors were at 6 so it got out at a decent time.

Death Cab played pretty well, and the songs from their new album Plans sounded good live, but I was tired and the crowd was annoying so I couldn't fully enjoy it. Mike Doughty was also packed, but unlike Death Cab his band didn't sound very good most of the time. I put most of the blame for this on his drummer, who played like he was in a Guns N' Roses cover band instead of backing up a mellow folk singer. The last time I saw Doughty he had a different drummer, who actually knew how to play subtly and not drown out the rest of the instruments, but still rocked out on the rare occasion where it was helpful. The solo acoustic "show within the show" and Doughty's great stage presence salvaged the show from being a total disappointment, but I left feeling it could have been much better with a different drummer, or even if they hadn't had a drummer at all.

Son Volt, on the other hand, was a totally different experience. I was afraid that I would be burned out on my third show of the week, but I actually felt the best for this one. The Jay Farrar is the only original member in the new lineup of Son Volt, so I was a bit weary going in, but the band proved themselves to be worthy of the original Son Volt name. They started off the show playing several songs from their new album Okemah and the Melody of Riot. I don't like the new album anywhere near as much as I like Trace (of course the same could be said for about 98% of my other albums too), but the new songs sounded great live. After several new songs, they began mixing in older songs from their first three albums and a few from Farrar's solo albums too. To my suprise they eventually ended up playing more than half of Trace, including my favorites "Windfall," "Tear Stained Eye," and "Drown". It would've been nice to hear some fiddle, steel pedal, and banjo on a few of those songs, but they managed pretty well with the instruments they had (2 guitars, keyboards, bass and drums). However this lineup was very well suited to play the final song of the night, Uncle Tupelo's "Chickamauga". This is my favorite of Jay's songs from Uncle Tupelo, and I didn't expect to ever hear it played live, much less played so well, so it totally blew me away. Without a doubt that song was the highlight from that week of shows and was a perfect ending.

Monday, October 10

Hey, It's the Sun! And it Makes Me Shine!

Day 2 of Across the Narrows was on Sunday, 10/2, and this time I brought my camera. Unfortunately though the battery died at the end of the Polyphonic Spree's set, so I didn't get any pictures of Belle and Sebastian or Beck, but I did get a few good ones of the Spree.

I got to the stadium just before The Ravonettes went on, and there seemed to be more people there, although it was still far from crowded.

I had never heard The Ravonettes music before, but from what I had heard about them their set was about what I expected. It was pretty standard '60's influenced garage rock. They're pretty good at what they do, but what they do doesn't really interest me that much. During the set I was more concerned about getting into a decent spot in the crowd for The Polyphonic Spree than with their music. I didn't mind seeing them perform live, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see them again, and I don't think I would ever buy an album of theirs unless they change significantly.

Up next was The Polyphonic Spree, a giant indie-rock band/cult whose members wear matching robes. I had never seen them before, and this set turned out to be the highlight of my weekend. I counted 22 members on stage during the show, including 8 in the choir, 3 horn/wind players, 2 drummers, 2 keyboardists, 2 guitarists, 1 bassist, 1 harpist, 1 violinist, 1 thereminist (is that a word? well it is now), and the lead singer. Is all that overkill? Maybe, but it's hard to argue with it when it looks and sounds this good.

Based on the band's lyrics, they seem to worship the sun, so it was great to see them outdoors at the end of a bright, sunny day. The lead singer even waved goodbye to the sun as it was setting during one of their sun songs.

The band played a good mix of songs, playing from both their albums The Beginning Stages of... and Together We're Heavy. They also covered the new Thumbsucker soundtrack, which mostly contains new songs by the band (along with a few new Elliott Smith tracks, which predictably weren't played). The performance of the songs was great, they managed to make them sound even more epic than they do on record. The highlight of the show for me was the short song "Everything Starts at the Seam" which lead into the very long "When the Fool Becomes King", just like it does at the end of their album Together We're Heavy. They changed the songs up enough to make them noticeably different from the album versions, and they were fun to watch on stage. I certainly won't miss them if they ever come through the upper midwest on tour.

Only after the massive lineup of The Polyphonic Spree could the 11 members of the indie-pop Belle and Sebastian seem small for a band. I wonder what it would have felt like if the 2 members of The Black Keys had followed the Spree, that would be an interesting contrast. While Belle and Sebastian took somewhat of a backseat to the Spree in my mind, they were the main reason I went to the festival, and their performance didn't disappoint. My only real complaint is that they have so many great songs, I would have loved to see them play for 3 hours instead of the barely hour long set they had. Still they managed to choose a good setlist for the limited time they had, covering a lot of their best old material as well as several new songs. I was especially happy to hear two of my favorites, "The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses". I would've loved to hear "Your Cover's Blown" too, but that's not a typical song for them at all, and I wouldn't be suprised if they never perform it live.

Beck closed out the night after Belle and Sebastian, and it was predictably a very similar show to the one I saw a few weeks earlier at Roy Wilkins in St. Paul. It was still suprisingly enjoyable, even though I had seen pretty much the same thing not long ago. The biggest difference in this show was during the solo portion where the band was sitting down to eat. This time Beck was playing acoustic instead of electric, and was much better than when he was at Roy Wilkins. This solo set included "Tropicalia", a much better version of "Lost Cause", and closed the same way with "The Golden Age" and the rest of the band joining in on dining room percussion.

Overall day 2 was much better than day 1, and I certainly hope to be seeing all 3 of these bands again. Especially Belle and Sebastian, who are long overdue for a show in the Twin Cities. Hopefully they'll go on a full U.S. tour after they release their next album.

Sunday, October 9

We're All Better Off in New York

Last weekend (10/1-2) I was in New York City, and I went to the Across the Narrows festival held at Keyspan Park in Coney Island. Keyspan Park is a minor league baseball park, and is located only a few blocks from the famous amusement park. The stage was set up in the middle of the baseball field, and you could either watch the show close up on the field, or sit in any of the seats. I didn't bring my camera for the first day, but I did get some pictures on the second day. You can see the stage setup with the amusement park in the background in the pictures below. You can also tell that it wasn't very crowded, which was true on both days, although more people showed up after it got dark.

The first day of the festival was on Saturday, and I saw the following bands in order:
Death from Above 1979
Rilo Kiley
Built to Spill
Gang of Four

I got there shortly after DFA1979 went on stage and saw most of their set, which was pretty good although probably not one of their best shows. The band is only a duo, with a bass player and a drummer who does most of the singing. They're a bit more hard rock than what I normally listen to, but they're good live and are able to create a suprising range given their limited instrumentation. I suppose you could say they're the anti-Polyphonic Spree, a band that played on Sunday and had 11 times more band members on stage, but more on them later.

Next up was Rilo Kiley, which was the highlight of the day for me. I had just seen them opening for Coldplay the previous week at Target Center, but this show was better. I was much closer to the stage, the band played longer, and the crowd was at least a bit more into the band. This was the last stop on their tour for their newest album, More Adventurous, and the band seemed to be a bit weary from over a year of touring on the same album, but they still managed to put on a good show. They played all of my favorite songs, including "Love and War", "Does He Love You?", and once again closed with "Portions for Foxes." Even after hearing the same songs live several times, I don't think it's possible for me to not love a show by any band with Jenny Lewis in it.

Built to Spill played next, and while I enjoy their music a lot they aren't really the most compelling live musicians. However they did suprise me by played quite a bit of their older material mixed in with the expected new songs, including my favorite "Carry the Zero" and several other tracks from Keep It Like a Secret.

The two headliners for the day were Gang of Four and Pixies, and both were about as I expected. I like both bands somewhat, but I'm not really into either of them so I wasn't expecting too much. But they both played enjoyable but uneventful sets, with Gang of Four impressing me a bit more than Pixies.

I'll try to post about the second day of the festival in the next few days.

Thursday, September 29

Anyone Have a Hopelandic-to-English Dictionary?

Tomorrow I'm headed to New York to see some friends, and also to attend the Across the Narrows festival. The lineup is pretty impressive. These are the bands I'm most looking forward to seeing, starting with the most anticipated:

Belle and Sebastian
The Polyphonic Spree
Gang of Four
Built to Spill
Rilo Kiley
Death From Above 1979
The Ravonettes

There are a few other bands playing that I'm not very familiar with, and I may or may not see them since they're early in the day. This list is somewhat influenced by the fact that I just saw Rilo Kiley and Beck last week, otherwise they would both be higher up. Speaking of seeing Rilo Kiley, I'm going to finish up my reviews of the shows I saw last week now, so I don't forget about them after I get back from New York.

Last Tuesday I went to one of the worst music venues in the Twin Cities, the Target Center, to see Coldplay and Rilo Kiley. I had semi-decent seats on the first level to the side of the stage, about 15 rows up, but the view wasn't that great as you can see from the pictures. I had actually considered selling my tickets instead of going, since I hate the Target Center and the new Coldplay album mostly bores me. However the lure of seeing Rilo Kiley and lead singer Jenny Lewis proved to be too great and I went to the show.

Rilo Kiley opened the show, and they played pretty well given the conditions. The conditions being a poor venue, no elaborate light or video show like Coldplay had, and a somewhat inattentive audience who mostly seemed unfamiliar with their music. That said, they played a solid set consisting mostly of songs from their newest album, More Adventurous. My only real complaint is that they skipped some of my favorite songs from that album, like "Love and War" and "A Man/Me/Then Jim" while playing some of my least favorite, like "I Never" and "Ripcord." However on the positive side, they did skip "Accidntal Deth" and played two of my other favorites, "The Absence of God" and the set-closing "Portions for Foxes," which the crowd seemed to recognize since it's been getting a fair amount of airplay here.

Coldplay went on next, and they played a very solid if not spectacular set. I really wasn't too excited for this show or expecting all that much, because while their new album X&Y has a few songs I love, overall it just seems kind of bland and boring. So I was pleasantly suprised when they played a pretty good show. The new songs sounded better in concert than on the album, and they also played a good number of songs from their first two albums which I like considerably more than the new one. Add to that a pretty impressive light and video show and a captive audience, and it made for a good show that was actually worth the high ticket price.

After a few days of rest, I went to the Cedar Cultural Center to see Andrew Bird on Friday. This was my first time at this venue, which is fairly large and was suprisingly sold out. I would say The Current probably has a lot to do with why this show sold out, which is fine with me since I got my ticket early. The one thing that struck me most about the show was that the audience was incredibly captive. There was absolutely no talking whatsoever during the songs, and I didn't see a single flash go off from people taking pictures the whole time. I'm sure some of this has to do with the venue, but the audience was also really into the music.

The music was quite good as well. This was Andrew Bird's first show with local drummer/keyboardist Martin Dosh, who also plays with Vicious Vicious and will be going on tour with Andrew soon. I thought the two musicians complimented each other nicely, and sounded very good especially for their first show. Andrew used lots of sampling and played violin, guitar, glockenspiel, and whistled and sang while Martin split his time between his drum kit, rhodes piano and a laptop. Sadly they had to omit "Fake Palindromes" and "Tables and Chairs," two of my favorite songs of his, and I think it was partly due to some technical difficulties. But what they did play sounded great, so I can't complain.

This crazy week ended with seeing Sigur Rós at the State Theater, hence my need for a Hopelandic-to-English dictionary. It was a perfect end to the week, because it was the best show I saw in quite some time. I got there shortly after the opening act (and string quartet for Sigur Rós) started playing a bizarre and oddly mesmerizing set. They used a wide variety of strange instruments like a singing saw, wine glasses, vibraphone, glockenspiel, an array of bells, and their string quartet instruments to make an oddly moving sound. It's really hard to describe their music, like with Sigur Ros, and it must be seen to be fully appreciated.

After the break, a curtain was lowered and Sigur Rós began by playing their first few songs behind it. They started out pretty slow, but it gradually built and by the time the curtain was lifted they really hit their stride, which continued through the entire show. It's hard to pick out individual songs, as in both their albums and their show the songs just kind of flow together. I do remember a few individual highlights being "Hoppípolla" from their new album Takk..., "Svefn-g-englar" from "Ágætis Byrjun," and both the first track and the encore last track from their unnamed album ( ). It's really hard to properly put this show into words, but after seeing them I'm going to put their show in the "Not to be missed under any circumstances" category. The only other bands I can think of that are currently active that I would put in this category are Wilco, Radiohead, and The Flaming Lips, so that puts them with some pretty good company in my opinion.

Tuesday, September 27

Talking Trash to the Garbage Around You

I've fallen a bit behind in reviews of the shows I've been to recently, I guess that's what happens when you go to 5 shows in a week. I'm going to try to finish these up before I leave for New York on Friday, otherwise I'm afraid I'll forget about the shows.

Last Monday I went to Roy Wilkins in St. Paul to see Beck. Sadly I got there too late to see the one man band McRorie open up the show. He only played for 20 minutes, and apparently most of that was taken up with AC/DC covers, so I can't say I'm too upset about missing that. But I did hear he played one original song about how we can be saved from the apocalypse if we party hard enough, and then he challenged Minneapolis and St. Paul to see if we party enough to survive. I'm happy to report that both of the Twin Cities party hard and will be surviving the end of the world, assuming that this prophet known as McRorie is correct.

After a lengthy delay, Beck came out with a full band and they launched right into their set. The show was pretty much what I was expecting out of Beck. He played most of the songs off of his new album, "Guero," and even though it's a pretty mediocre album most of the songs sounded pretty good live. Of course he also played pretty much all of his hits from his previous albums, highlights included "Hotwax," a triumphant return of the mega-hit "Loser," and the main set-closing "Where It's At."

One unexpected turn came near the end of the main set. A dining table was set up on stage, filled with a full dinner. Everyone in the band sat down and started eating while Beck stood alone playing solo-electric songs. There's a picture of this setup below. He did sort of a medly of several of his songs by himself, including "Debra" and "Lost Cause." Then when he started "The Golden Age" off of Sea Change, the rest of the band began using the glasses, dishes, and silverware as percussion instruments. This actually sounded suprisingly good, and it was an interesting gimmick to allow Beck some solo time in the middle of his set.

After the dinner party on stage was done, the band returned to their instruments and played "Where It's At" to close the set, which culminated with the lowering of a giant boom box as seen in the picture below. They came back on for several songs as an encore, including "E-Pro" from Guero. At the end of the encore several members of the audience were brought on stage for a few songs off of Midnight Vultures, as seen below. All in all another solid Beck show. I doubt he'll ever top the time I saw him at the Orpheum with the Flaming Lips as his opening and backing band, but he still puts on a great show and I certainly won't mind seeing him again this weekend in New York.