Guante and Big Cats! at One Day in July (Minneapolis, MN)

Photos and video of Guante and Big Cats!‘s set at the July 25, 2009 One Day in July festival in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, featuring performances of “Bring Out Your Dead,” “Dragons,” and “Old English Letters.”

Gay Witch Abortion at Grumpy's (Minneapolis, MN)

Video of Gay Witch Abortion‘s July 25, 2009 set at Grumpy’s features performances of “Action Cop,” “Your Own Militia,” “Girl Pop Soda,” and “Biocation.”

Sonic Youth at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Stepping up to the mic a few songs into the performance, guitarist Lee Ranaldo briefly dropped a disclaimer that the band would be playing a lot of new songs; he was right. As the first chords of "No Way" began to reverberate throughout First Avenue, Sonic Youth immediately set a trend that would remain consistent throughout its performance: playing all but one song ("Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn") from it's latest album The Eternal, the band didn't necessarily concentrate on distancing itself from its hefty back catalog of classic noise, it simply focused who Sonic Youth had become after some 30 years.

Though not quite as young as Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon's daughter Coco (15), the crowd was as diverse in age as any other I'd seen in recent memory. And what better way to appeal to such an audience than by appeasing it with music that most everyone would be familiar with? As such, after Moore introduced "No Way" as a song about "How beautiful it is to fall in love," the band continued on with another pair from The Eternal, "Sacred Trickster" and "Calming the Snake." Not to let down die-hard fans (or those who are simply interested in really, really good music from the late '80s) Gordon and Moore grabbed a pair of metal files and took them to their instruments, creating a haze that would later become "Silver Rocket" from Sonic Youth's landmark album Daydream Nation.

Aside from the seizure-inducing light show (words do little to describe how much it helped enhance the performance however) the focus was primarily on the music, with Ranaldo, Gordon, and Moore trading vocal duties but rarely speaking to the crowd. "We drove all the way out here to see you, so thanks for coming out," mentioned Moore before Gordon introduced the next song as "Antiiiiiiii-Orgasm."

Following "Malibu Gas Station," Moore led the way on vocals as the band sliced into "(I Got A) Catholic Block" from its 1987 release Sister. From there the band continued to play out tracks from The Eternal, Gordon cheekily prefacing "Leaky Lifeboat" by saying "Thanks, your enthusiasm is hot." While ending the main set with another song from Sister, "Stereo Sanctity," the highlight from Sonic Youth's first stint on the stage came with The Eternal's lengthy final song "Massage the History." The longest, fuzziest jam of the night had Moore in the rare position of sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar (though that did little to stop him from manipulating the hell out of the instrument); it was intensely loud and the song's energy was eventually reflected in the crowd which started clapping in sync and cheering half way through.

Playing two separate encores, the first included "What We Know" and a third song from Sister, "White Kross" (which concluded by Gordon and Moore flirtatiously forcing their axes together; one of their few shows of emotion throughout the show). Making the fans work for one last song the band took the stage for the final time, playing "Death Valley '69" from the band's 1985 album Bad Moon Rising. It was as intense as anything the band had played all night and left the crowd (at least from what I could see) genuinely satisfied.

Though it would've been nice to have had the band revisit some old favorites (say, "Teenage Riot" as it did at the State Fair a few years back), this performance did well in depicting a band that is so full of energy and exiting (new) music that despite its members' ages (Gordon's 56!), the end is clearly no where in sight.

"No Way"
"Sacred Trickster"
"Calming The Snake"
"Silver Rocket"
"Walkin' Blue"
"Poison Arrow"
"Malibu Gas Station"
"(I Got A) Catholic Block"
"Leaky Lifeboat"
"Massage the History"
"Stereo Sanctity"
"What We Know" (first encore)
"White Kross" (first encore)
"Death Valley '69" (second encore)

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

The Jesus Lizard at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

Though it’s far too early to even begin to estimate which performance can be deemed the wildest of the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival, David Yow of the Jesus Lizard immediately notified the crowd that his band would be in contention as it took the stage Friday night. Prior to sinking his feet into his first real lines of the set Yow hurled himself off the stage headfirst into the unexpected crowd. Returning (shirtless, upon occasion) to the crowd a half dozen more times throughout the set, Yow never once stopped accompanying his squealing vocals with an equally menacing stage presence.

After a failed stab at Dr. Dre, Yow grinned and asked the crowd “Why was the dog licking his ass.” “Because he liked the taste of my sperm.” Though Yow’s antics overshadowed anything else on the stage, the evening’s performance was well grounded in the band’s powerful music. Later as the group played itself off the stage, each member staggering their exits, drummer Mac McNeilly signaled the last few heart-pounding beats of the set as he exited the stage last. And as fans began to furiously make haste to position themselves to better catch a glimpse of Built To Spill’s performance, the band returned to the stage (though Yow would again make his stage presence best felt from the crowd). Again, it’s too early to tell, but the bar has been set. Very, very high.

Pharoahe Monch at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

DJ Boogie Blind of the X-Ecutioners kicked off Pharoahe Monch’s set with an extended hype-session that prepared the crowd for the energy that would eventually exude from the stage. After announcing that there would be an upcoming Organized Konfusion tour–Monch’s group with Prince Po that recently reformed after disbanding in 1997–the emcee hit the stage with his backup singers Showtyme and MeLa Machinko, kicking the set off with “Let’s Go.”

Later the group went through a series of songs including “Free,” “Fuck You,” “Agent Orange” and “Right Here” before DJ Boogie Blind again took the spotlight for a freestyle scratch-session. After announcing that his next record, tentatively titled W.A.R. (Let My People Go), would be produced by the brilliant Alchemist, Monch and his backing trio nailed both “Desire” and “Pushin’,” both from his 2007 release Desire. After Monch, Showtyme and Machinko had left the stage completely, DJ Boogie Blind stepped out from behind his decks and teased an encore to the crowd, one that finally materialized in the form of Monch’s biggest single to date: “Simon Says” from his 1999 solo debut Internal Affairs. Between the massive crowd that gathered for DOOM and the generous response that was given to Monch, Pitchfork might do well next year to include more than a brief taste of hip hop.

The Walkmen at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

Though missing the set’s opener, “The Sky Above,” my Walkmen experience was best summed up by the following songs that the band played. Trailing one of my favorite’s by the group, “In The New Year,” was “Red River,” which made surprisingly good use of a triangle player, “Postcards From Tiny Islands,” and “Canadian Girl,” which found a horn quartet chiming in nicely with the production. My only complaint of the Walkmen’s performance is one that I have of its albums; through all its ebbs and flows the band makes great use of its talent, but terrible lack of momentum.

One of my favorite aspects to the group’s recordings is that the Walkmen’s lead vocalist Hamilton Leithauser seems to always convey an unusual demeanor—one that maximizes power while seemingly minimizing effort. The band’s set becomes problematic, however, when its pace slows and Leithauser removes himself as the centerpiece of the performance. When he and the rest of the Walkmen are in full gear, offering a deafening rumble of sound, the band is at its best—but during its Pitchfork performance it maintained the same inconsistent pace that it does on its albums; one that maintains little momentum despite clearly depicting the band’s diverse range of talents. Maybe it wasn’t that I was dissatisfied with the performance, or its lack of sonic appeal, but rather I was just in the mood for something sharper at the time. That might be why I left roughly three quarters of the way through the Walkmen’s set to see what was going on with the Japandroids. A decision I don’t regret in the least.

The Flaming Lips at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

At times, the world is a beautiful place; one of life’s better reminders of this is a Flaming Lips concert. The Lips’ performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival was one of the most entertaining sets I’ve ever seen—even if it was entirely predictable, it was the good kind of predictable. Spinning a few rarely played songs into a set heavily made up of the band’s typical live selections, Wayne Coyne and the band unleashed a wave of balloons, confetti and positivity onto the massive audience. The downside to the performance was the band’s inconsistent musical selections, though in all honesty the band could’ve played a set consisting entirely of Spaghetti Western instrumentals (actually, that might’ve been pretty cool), but the upside was the most enjoyable performance of the weekend.

Black Lips at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

Despite an extended soundcheck, Atlanta’s Black Lips came to the Pitchfork Music Festival to do one thing: party. “We got here this afternoon, and we’re going to party here tonight.” Within moments of the first song guitarist Ian Saint Pé proved that statement true as a chord into the band’s first song he took it upon himself to smash the hell out of his guitar. “Who wants a pickup” he later said as one of many moments where he threw articles of his equipment into the crowd. “Anyone want a guitar chord?” With a packed crowd that was anxious to party, drunkenly tossing a 50 foot piece of memorabilia into the pack of animals is rarely a good idea.

Hitting the band’s regulars including “Bad Kids” and “Katrina,” the Black Lips focused primarily on material from the band’s latest album 200 Million Thousand. But aside from their stroll through their garage-influenced catalog, the band primarily focused on getting wasted. Bassist Jared Swilley continually took pulls from what appeared to be a bottle of Knob Creek and drummer Joe Bradley came close to blowing out both his drums and his voice. Eventually the set began to wind down and Saint Pé attempted to take the crowd into his hands, “There are two ways you can leave tonight: on your terms, or theirs. If one or two of you try to come up here, you’re going to get thrown out. But if you all do, there’s nothing they can do about it.” And as the band boomed so did the crowd, swelling towards the barriers… though only a half dozen made it safely onto the stage before leaving in an anticlimactic manner. As the reverb blossomed and the band set down its instruments, guitarist Cole Alexander grabbed ahold of a fire extinguisher and sprayed it at will into the air. While the band exited Saint Pé remained on stage, having already given up a good portion of his gear to the crowd, and lit a smoke while simply watching. He tossed his bottle of wine out to some fans and said, “Drink it on me.” Seems like that’s kind of what the audience did all night.

Matt and Kim at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

If you’ve ever seen any of Matt and Kim’s music videos, you probably have a good sense of how much energy the Brooklyn-based duo has. That energy is only amplified when the duo is performing live—and further intensified when there’s been some drinking going on. It might have been the multiple missed cues, or when Matt (Johnson) told Kim (Schifino) that she’s got to put down her beer half way through the set, but I think there might have been a little of that aforementioned drinking going on during the duo’s Pitchfork set. Either way, the band was a blazing ball of excitement that hit the stage with “It’s A Fact (Printed Stained),” before pounding down an instrumental rendition of Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop.”

The duo was playing Pitchfork’s auxiliary stage, which Kim later referred to as the party stage, “And we feel at home of the mother fucking party stage.” Repeatedly jumping on and off of their stools, Matt (on keyboard) and Kim (on drums) later played “5K,” “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare,” and “Cutdown.”

As with most Matt and Kim shows, the band’s interaction with the crowd was electric throughout the entire performance. Typically Matt or Kim will offer up a memorable story which is good for a solid laugh. This time around Matt explained that his girdle (back brace) had previously prevented him from jumping around the stage like he normally does (and his mom makes fun of him for wearing it) while Kim explained how they had just seen Beyonce at Madison Square Garden, and they were both blown away by how low she could get. Matt then cued up some electro-funk and Kim started dancing… though she admittedly couldn’t get that low, she explained that she’s practicing and hopes to someday get “Rub your vagina on the floor low.” Very nice.

The duo ended the set with “Daylight” from this year’s album Grand. As Matt and Kim thanked the crowd—Kim while standing on top of her drums (see: beer)—the band’s brilliant smiles were reflected by the young group of fans that had turned out to see them.

Fucked Up at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

From start to finish, Fucked Up’s set was a blur of sparkling eloquence. Psych. Vocalist Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham chewed on beach balls, strolled shirtless through the crowd and made fun of other bands on the festival’s bill. As Kip Berman of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart later recalled, “We got some good advice from Fucked Up. They said to sound more like Weezer.”

In all fairness, Pink Eyes later teased his own band as well, making fun of Mike “10,000 Marbles” Haliechuk’s inability to grow a beard—everything remained in good spirits though. Kicking things off (fully clothed) with “Son the Father” from last year’s album The Chemistry of Common Life, the band later broke out other Chemistry songs such as “Magic Word,” “No Epiphany,” and (personal favorite) “Crooked Head.” The only issue that plagued the set was Pink Eyes’ continually blown-out vocals. The band stayed tight throughout (Fucked Up’s members had fun messing with each other also, Josh “Concentration Camp” Zucker kicked out bassist Sandy “Mustard Gas” Miranda’s cord on at least one occasion) and kept up with Pink Eyes’ usual sporadic behavior and refreshing jokes, “Do you like sports? I don’t. I used to wear my shirt like this in gym class because I thought it made me look less fat.”

The only downer from the set was watching the festival’s only (?) ambulance pull through the crowd as a guitar was rumored to have rammed someone in the face. How it happened, or even if it happened, I don’t know—either way it took away from the awesome power that the band had just showcased.

MF Doom at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)

With DOOM’s less than stellar reputation for being prompt to his live performances (or for showing up at all, for that matter), running 10 or 15 minutes late is practically like DOOM showed up early; which is exactly what he did. (Rumors later ranged from the believable: sound problems—which is how it appeared from the crowd—to the slightly outrageous: DOOM demanded to be paid before going on stage.) Following the late (early) start, DOOM followed his massive hype-man Big Benn Kling-on on stage as the duo immediately started ripping into bars from “Hoe Cakes,” from his 2004 release MM..Food. Next up was “Rhymes Like Dimes” from the emcee’s 1999 debut solo album, Operation: Doomsday.

I’ve historically enjoyed DOOM most on his collaborative efforts with Madlib and Danger Mouse, and this set did little to change my mind as “Curls,” from Madvillain’s Madvillainy, and “Benzie Box,” from Danger Doom’s The Mouse and the Mask, were two of my favorites from the performance. While later being introduced as King Geedorah (the alias under which DOOM released his 2003 album Take Me To Your Leader), to the best of my recollection the emcee didn’t dip into the album; he did touch on his Viktor Vaughn persona however, as he later dove into “Change The Beat” from 2003’s Vaudeville Villain. Throughout the set DOOM also tore into “All Caps,” “Beef Rap,” and “Gazzillion Ear,” the last of which is from this year’s Born Like This, the emcee’s first record since dumping the MF Doom moniker. Stepping off stage while Big Benn continued to hype the crowd, DOOM eventually returned and closed out the set with “Kon Queso,” again from MM..Food, which found the crowd energetically bouncing in unison. And just like that, everything was over: it was a crisp set with little nonsense whatsoever. I’m not sure if anyone was expecting to walk away from the performance praising DOOM for his professionalism, but surprisingly, I now find myself doing exactly that.

The Dead Weather “Horehound” Review

A select number of video editors make their living from re-cutting films into two minute promotional trailers. It’s their job to hook the viewer by presenting them with an excerpt of footage that will entice them to want to see more. Likewise, it’s the sign of a good marketer to do something similar with records and their singles. When the Dead Weather dropped “Hang You From the Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother” a few weeks apart in May, the band created a giant stir that was greeted by an equally massive response of “we want to hear more.” But the hand-picked songs stand as outliers amongst the album’s 11 tracks. Their early release wasn’t deceptive to the point of “the only funny parts of the movie are in the trailer,” but the two songs embellish the primal urgency that the entire album was supposedly to convey. For good or bad, they don’t reflect who the band is.

Since the initial announcement of the Dead Weather, much has been made of Horehound being simply another Jack White creation. And while the complexion of the record reflects aspects of White’s past work, Horehound is anything but just another branch from the White Stripes tree. Aside from the two previously mentioned tracks, the Dead Weather focus on creating music that sounds closer to a filthy, unshaven, distant relative of the blues. And there is no better example of this sound than with Horehound’s lead track, “60 Feet Tall.”

Guitarist Dean Fertita and vocalist Alison Mosshart carry the album’s introduction, balancing Mosshart’s deep throated rumblings with Fertita’s mixture of eruptive wails and leisurely grooves. While the song carries itself as a mucky blues-ridden escape, with Fertita’s influence it still expels any doubt that the album will be anything but a sonic adventure, especially as it leads into the powerful “Hang You From the Heavens.” “Heavens” is largely comprised of Jack White’s jagged drums meshing with Fertita’s bent licks, though Mosshart’s typically smoky vocals guide it from start to finish. Even after listening to the track on non-stop repeat when it was first released, it still retains an especially crisp and refreshing sound—one that is later revisited with the album’s second single “Treat Me Like Your Mother.”

Following the organ-driven “I Cut Like A Buffalo,” the only song on the record solely written by White, comes what might be the album’s most representative track: “So Far From Your Weapon;” the only song on the record solely written by Mosshart. “Weapon” is a brooding call and response that is continually on the verge of exploding, eventually concluding by fading away into White’s distant symbols. It reflects aspects of each song on the record while still retaining a sense of individuality.

One of the most deceptive aspects to Horehound is the intensity of the record’s ebbs and flows. Just as there becomes a sense that the band has settled into a sound, or a pattern, the band flips the script and something unexpected is tossed into the mix. It’s a bitch as far as consistency is concerned, but it makes for an exciting listen. As the energy of the album is toned down with “Weapon,” “Treat Me Like Your Mother” raises the bar again, only to find a middle ground on the following track, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “New Pony.”

Originally released on Dylan’s 1978 album Street-Legal, ”New Pony” reintroduces Fertita’s sludgy wail, with the band adding back-up vocals (shouts, really) to Mosshart’s wild snarl. Though it retains a bit of the original’s twangy twist, if there were ever a Dylan cover to sound less like Dylan than this, it doesn’t come to mind.

Following “Bone House,” in which Mosshart takes on a peculiar riot grrl tone, comes one of the most unusual turns on the record: the instrumental track “3 Birds.” The song builds on an eerily distorted guitar before a churning organ kicks in over rumbling drums, eventually fading out the same way it faded in. “3 Birds” is rare in that it almost comes off as though the band has let its guard down—the track has no real hook and is equally as playful as it is serious. Reading too much into it, one might think that the song represents the band as a whole: enjoyable, and musically solid, but lacking any real direction.

After the fuzzy “No Hassle Night,” the album concludes with “Will There Be Enough Water?” The song might be Horehound’s closest link to White and bassist Jack Lawrence’s Raconteurs in that it slightly mimics the final song from the band’s album Consoler of the Lonely. The Raconteurs’ “Carolina Drama” is Jack White’s best storytelling effort on the 2008 release; musically it’s a song that trudges along, touching on aspects of the blues, gospel and rock. “Will There Be Enough Water?” does something similar in that it lends the six minute track a sluggish pace to match White and Mosshart’s oh-so-bluesy lyrics, “Just because you caught me, does that make it a sin?” Though not as detailed a story as “Carolina Dream,” it carries the album out with downtrodden lyrics and a song that is unlike any other on the record.

For all of the inconsistencies throughout the album, “Will There Be Enough Water?” offers the most authentic tone on Horehound. It sounds less like a band trying to create something that is the sum of its parts, as with the album’s two singles, and more like a group of musicians simply playing to their instincts. Had “Will There Be Enough Water?” been offered as the first release from the album, Horehound would ultimately still sound nothing like it’s “trailer,” but it might have better prepared listeners for the highs and lows that would follow. Horehound is a record that is as hard to place as the band itself, but one that conclusively depicts a collection of brilliant musicians trying to do something together that strays from their respective norms. Unfortunately however, the sum of their efforts comes off as weaker than each of the band’s unique parts.