Stolen Wallpaper

Words but a whisper, deafness a shout

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Location: Zeeland, Michigan, United States

Hi. I wish I had a job selling squirrels. They're so furry, and give you toothy grins. Unless they're rabid, in which case they will eat your face off and then find the rest of your family. That's not so good, I guess.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Live Music Log, April 2018

4 5 18  Seth Bernard #5  EcoPrint, Grand Rapids  This was an invite-only pilot program for a thing Bill Chesney is trying at his print shop:  intimate shows in an industrial setting, very similar to Darcy’s show at Kal-Tone.  There were chairs, and cheese, and a perma-smiling Seth Bernard with his beloved battered acoustic guitar.  It was filmed for potential use later, so I made sure to dodge THAT camera. He told stories and took questions, and when I asked about his Clean Water Initiative campaign, that led into a (highly informative) speech that ate about 15 minutes of the hourlong show.  Feeling guilty about stealing that much music from my fellow attendees, I also requested a song from his very first release, which turned out to be a delightful Dick Siegel number about a restaurant in NYC.  I bought a Steve Leaf record:  for the curious, Bill has an Earthwork factory outlet in a nook off the main shop.

4 7 18  Over The Rhine #2  Bell’s, Kalamazoo  Lived-in sound.  A husband and wife who have been making low, slow, melancholy music with the occasional strand of barbed wire for 25 years now, this was a rare Bell’s show where you could hear the rustle of fabric as the musicians moved.  Fewer familiar tunes than last time, but much more comedy, and a young sideman who was an absolute wizard on the electric guitar, adding nasty filigrees to all Linford and Karen’s stately songs.  Good to hear Linford sing more too:  understandable why he leaves most of it to his unfeasibly talented wife, but his shaggy dog tones are perfect for some songs.  He could have been a Loudon Wainwrightish troubadour if he hadn’t paired up with one of the great female voices of our time.

4 8 18  MAX LOCKWOOD  Creston Brewery, Grand Rapids  A very rare solo outing from the leader of Big Dudee Roo (and, of late, the Insiders), a low key set on a bright Sunday afternoon, sun streaming in the big windows along Quimby St.  Some support from his friends, mainly Eric O’Daly and Joe Van Acker, but this was Max singing his songs, many from his excellent solo disc Outrider, many brand new as well.  Never has someone been so destined to portray Tom Petty, but he has a distinctive songwriting voice, Americana bent through life here in this place:  the Midwest, not the South.  “Where the river runs, you follow down.”

4 13 18  Guided By Voices #2  Blind Pig, Ann Arbor  Actually my fourth time seeing this iconic Ohio band, the first two being back in 2002 and 2003, long before the blog and marriage and any kind of life.  28 year old me had no friends, and weird solitary hobbies, but he did have a hell of a music collection, and the insanely prolific Robert Pollard fills nearly a shelf by himself.  I’m not as insane about everything he craps out as the most hardcore of fans, and I wish more of his lyrics didn’t require a decoder ring, but I love his melodies and his populist can-do spirit.  The new album, Space Gun (his 102nd), is my favorite in 15 years, and they played the whole thing, as well as tracks from across the wide Pollardverse, comprising five or six side bands and solo works, even a song from sideman Doug Gillard’s solo career.  This venue was small, and packed, and hot as hell.  The PA somehow managed to convey every nuance of the muscular band’s musicianship, and render every single lyric illegible.  Sacrilegious as it was, I bailed after the first encore (there were two more) to catch my breath.  A GBV show is three hours, 50+ songs, and a hell of a lot of fun.  It WAS a bit of an unwelcome callback to those days of The Creepy Alone Guy, not knowing another soul in the club or indeed the city.  But then the band plays Glad Girls, and a whole room levitates with joy.

4 14 18  Hollywood Makeout #2/THE EXTRA TEXTURE/Lazy Genius #3  Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids  The Scheme has periodic Local Showcase bills, where three or four local bands get a chance to shine:  commendable, since a lot of midsize venues like Bell’s are booking regional or national acts only now.  Here we had three GR acts on the way up, playing to a reasonably enthusiastic crowd.  The Extra Texture I didn’t know, and still don’t:  their songs passed by pleasantly but didn’t leave an impression.  I will investigate further.  Love the George-inspired name.  Hollywood Makeout is superb: a locked and loaded melody howitzer with a bass sound like a six lane highway into your skull, perfectly balanced by Erin Lenau’s serene vocals.  There’s one trick here right now, Blondie playing the Strokes, but it’s a very good trick, and “Space Jam” shows there’s lots of room for branching out down the road.  Lazy Genius is inscrutable, in the best way:  I have yet to see them in a venue where I can make out the damn words, so the songs could mean anything, but they leave an image of dissolute friendliness, louche without being supercilious, and assorted other big words.  This was a release show for their new EP, New Moon.  Check the Bandcamp.  I love Bandcamp.  If music HAS to leave physical media behind, this is the way to go.

4 15 18  THE STASH BAND  House show, Grand Rapids  This is music as a contact sport:  acoustic rugby.  Stash Wyslouch and his band of wunderkind nutballs have been described by the Boston (their base) Herald as “a sonic kaleidoscope of weirdness and wonder.”  This was a last minute call for a show at Mark Lavengood’s house;  the gracious host also chipped in his dobro skills on a few tunes.  System of A Down, Gogol Bordello, Punch Brothers, Spike Jones, Modest Mouse, Sepultura, Andy Borowitz, and the Steep Canyon Rangers thrown in a blender and puree pushed.  Off kilter insanity with intervals of straight genre to prove virtuosity, in a living room with maybe 20 people.  The songs served the sound, and the sound was all your brain could handle.  Two words:  Ice Crisis!  Best bit:  during the last song of the first set, the band members ghosted the room one by one, drifting into the kitchen or down the hall, like Homer oozing into the hedge.  A line that grabbed me:  Start acting like a man, and stop acting like a man.  Mark’s tiny child stole a drumstick at a crucial moment, making for the most adorable dropped cue ever.  If they ever come back here GO SEE THEM.

4 22 18  The Crane Wives #44  Creston Brewery, Grand Rapids And thus the number of shows seen catches up to my age.  So what’s the deal here?  Why would anyone go see a local band that many times in the span of 28 months?  Because I love this sound, and these songs, more than anything else, except my mother and my dog.  And at least my dog didn’t vote for Trump BUT I DIGRESS.  After being unilaterally moved to Arizona, then cheated on and dumped six months later, I crawled home a shell of my former self, and my former self wasn’t all that substantial to begin with.  For almost a decade I was defined as her large weird companion who had all that music.  To go back to who I was before, a hermit cipher, seemed like a bad plan.  I hid in the basement for about a year, working and walking the dog and not much else.  Then I remembered I wasn’t married to an agoraphobic any more, and I could go see live music, like I did back in the late 90s, the days of the Verve Pipe, Domestic Problems, Fat Amy, Milkhouse, Knee Deep Shag, and assorted other names that will mean something to a few people.  I started off slow, mostly showing up awkwardly at shows by Scottie’s friend Colin and his Irish band (which became the Saltbound).  One day I went to the local section in Vertigo Music and literally judged an album by its cover.  The second Crane Wives album, The Fool In Her Wedding Gown, has a striking, stylized painting of a crying woman, all the sudden self-realization in the world somehow conveyed in a few brushstrokes.  I knew fact zero about this band, not one thing, but I had the Decemberists album their name referenced, and that’s a hell of a good start.  Put it in in the car:  oh violins, high keening vocal, nice, banjo a bit intrusive, immersive complex sound serving a simple (not simplistic) song.  Next song:  Steady, Steady.  Describing a young woman married too soon, chafing at her restrictions, “how long is forever?”  Driving down M-45, tears streaming down my face:  my god, is this how she felt?  Skipped the turn to home, kept going.  Strangler Fig:  “I gave you, everything I had, NOW I WANT IT BACK.”  Damn fuckin’ straight I do.  I paid your way through school, and instead of paying mine, you got bored with me.  Hit the lakeshore, kept going.  Show Your Fangs:  a fierce feminist declaration I later discovered was written by the dude drummer, three part unison vocal throughout, showing unity of purpose.  Once And For All:  the nearly incoherent, impotent anger, at her and at myself, given voice.  Who are these young women and how are they in my head?  “Please don’t return me to the darkness.”  The canary in the coalmine is never saved.  And at the end:  How To Rest just wrecked me.  I pulled into the city beach in Grand Haven and just sobbed, for the first time since the final divorce fifteen months earlier.  “The heart is just a muscle with a rhythm all its own;  it doesn’t stop when you decide not to move on.  The heart knows nothing of your love or of your loss.”  In other words, Time To Move On, Schmuckboy.  It took me another three months to go see them live, but once I did, and discovered all the OTHER amazing, textured, nuanced, astonishingly accomplished songs in their catalog, there was no way I was not going to do it every chance I got.  Two lead singers, three songwriters, four dedicated and skilled instrumentalists:  before the complete collapse of the record industry, there’s no way an act like this would have not broken out nationally, and I still hold out hope, even if that means seeing less of them here.  Eventually they noticed me, the burly dude attending all their damn shows, and instead of getting a restraining order they became my friends. And the confidence boost from this led me to Dooley, through whom I met basically everyone ELSE I now know. I have more people in my life than ever before.  So, yeah, add “kind to stray randos” to their list of attributes.  I remember hanging out on the patio outside Creston before this show more than the show itself, but rest assured I still enjoyed the hell out of it.  Kate has a new song, Here I Am, or Ghost Of Me, or something else maybe, about the people left behind when the cities of Michigan are hollowed out by poverty.  This is not subject matter tackled by your everyday twinkly female-led folk band.  They are so much more.  Volta and Daydreamer are twin Emilee and Kate singles that point a way forward:  cautious optimism.  Getting ready to feel.  Just have to move a little bit faster now.  Please give them a listen, at plus the five new singles on Spotify and YouTube.  You might not go as completely nuts as I clearly have, but if you can’t find something to love, I will refund your money myself.

4 27 18  Matt Gabriel (Trio) #3  New Holland Brewing, Holland  Matt is an accidental friend:  he was tied to the date I wanted for my song-redemption show at Old Dog last October, so he was on the bill with my five musical friends for the big night.  He got to know us through a long and hilarious Messenger thread over the months of my amateurish event planning.  (Darcy chanting:  “one of us.  One of us.”)  He has a friendly, lightly funky sound:  what if Adam Levine possessed human empathy?  His trio this night featured Eric Ellis on drums and Mat Churchill, whom I saw solo himself not long ago, on bass.  Loping genial folkish tunes that go down smooth, even when the table in front of the stage refuses to leave and the show starts 30 minutes late. Love Will Find A Way:  generic title, very catchy tune.  Heart Of Gold:  title associated way too much with another artist, absolutely killer song that sounded great with bigger instrumentation.  Pattern here.  I expect him to write a big fat hit called Just The Way You Are someday.

4 28 18  VALENTIGER/TOM HYMN/Fiona Dickinson #3  Founders, Grand Rapids  Valentiger has been a thing for well over a decade now, but I never managed to see or hear them till now.  I’d call them a low power trio, very much in the vein of Guster, highly competent melody serving the song.  Tom Hymn I can’t thumbnail:  hard to pin down, eclectic, like a less theatrical Jack And The Bear.  His own website compares him (them?) to Bob Dylan and Neutral Milk Hotel, works for me.  Bought the album on Bandcamp during the show.  And Fiona:  this time, with a superior sound system, I could ALMOST (but not quite) make out the lyrics.  Such a charming accent tho.  And the waves upon waves of lovely guitar distortion:  what if the Sundays played really, really loudly?

4 29 18  THE HONEYTONES/Hollywood Makeout #3  Founders, Grand Rapids  Not sure I’ve ever done the same venue two days in a row for completely different shows.  This early Sunday afternoon show, Feedback 2018, was a benefit for Access of West Michigan, a food pantry plus, that John Sinkevics (of Local Spins, and of the Honeytones) has been doing for many years.  I had been led to expect some semi-generic classic rock from the Honeytones, led by a pair of former Press writers, but they impressed me greatly with their song choices:  a few nice originals, a brand new Decemberists tune, and jaw-droppingly, a Patty Griffin tune, Driving, from the obscure album I had just bought used the week before.  Hollywood Makeout, as I said above, is my favorite new GR noise by a country mile, but it sure was strange to hear their scuzzed out super-rawk while daylight streamed in the windows, not to mention an audience filled with Erin Lenau’s fellow kindergarten teachers.  Also I think I saw the second guitarist’s eyes out from under a hoodie for the first time as the weather gets warmer.  Scary Pleather is my religion.  Desmond Jones closed out the benefit show, but I left to go catch….             
             ALEX AUSTIN/LOREN JOHNSON/Nicholas James Thomasma #4  Creston Brewery, Grand Rapids  The word is getting out about this series of in-the-round Songtellers shows that Nick has been curating at Creston.  Since I normally work Sundays, I won’t catch em all, but schedule craziness meant I could this time.  I got Nick’s Long Story Short EP, which is a thoughtful, somber, stately set of songs showing the best side of the grinning man in the orange bus.  Loren Johnson is very young, and very tiny, and has a voice that somehow evokes Tracy Chapman:  deep, rueful, very non-blonde. EP coming soon. Memorable song about hookin’ up in Australia.  Alex Austin was hurt real bad by someone at some point in the not-especially distant past:  he looks a bit like me, and his songs had that kicked-dog quality I wore for so long. Difference is, he has a guitar, and he can play it, so he can exorcise his demons a lot more directly.  He leads a band called Deerfield Run, an Americana act in a scene with many of them, but his Richard Thompsonish ability to paint a picture sets them apart.



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