The Head and the Heart: Lord, give me to the one that makes me whole

The Head and the Heart (Seattle, WA )
Kelli Schaefer
The Moondoggies
Ravenna Woods

House concert, Colorado Springs, CO
March 12, 2011

The Head and The Heart is one of those bands that I can’t stop listening to. You should probably be using the links below to the songs and listening to them as you read. Stop, do it right now, before you read any further. It will make more sense that way. Take this emotional journey with me.

I was lucky enough to catch them at a house show in Colorado Springs. It was indescribably intimate, in the clichéd kind of way where all I can say is you had to be there. The lights were up, in a room that could have been someone’s living room. I’m sure if I look closely in the pictures on Fuel/Friends’ blog, and remembering where I was standing for each set, I can probably find myself.

Ravenna Woods was up first. If it had been my rodeo, I would have billed them third, to have peak intensity in the middle of the show. They were definitely the most rockin’ of the 4 bands. I got a copy of their album Demons and Lakes and passed it on to the owner of the Red Raven (I’d post a link, but they are currently moving to a new awesome location) in Pueblo. (Aaron/Kev, did you find it yet?) We were hoping things would work out that they could play on their way back through town from SXSW where all four bands were headed next, or at the very least, offer them a place to crash. They were the only one of the four who were passing back through after SXSW was finished. I was supposed to be heading there next myself, (Next year, Jake Dilley!) but it wasn’t going to fit into my crazy life that week, and I ended up getting sick anyway. I wouldn’t have been able to handle any sort of partying that week, as South-by demands. That is not a week for the weak, and I am a complete amateur when it comes with keeping up with the night-after-night partying of the bands. I can only hang about 3 nights before falling on my face, and they keep up their pace for weeks on end. Anyhow, the Ravenna Woods set was completely great, full of energy. Especially considering Chris later told me they had driven two days straight from Seattle, and through a snowstorm Wyoming. It looks like the Ravenna Woods crew had a great trip despite it.

I actually didn’t catch much of the second set, the Moondoggies. My compadres and I stepped out to run a few blocks away where my friend Jordan Smart was playing at the Modbo. And just to get some air and catch my breath.

The third set was Kelli Schaefer. It was just her on guitar, and a flautist that did some backup singing. I’d post pictures, but they’re terrible. I bought her special edition pink vinyl despite not owning a record player (yet), for the digital download, which Kelli had to chase me down to give me. In my opinion, this album doesn’t come close to capturing her true talent and emotion, at least not what was on display that night. At one point she was standing on top of a folding chair, sweat dripping down her face, strumming each chord with a long pause in between each line, her voice wavering with intensity, as if the words are painful to say.

Better Idea

Well I can’t treat my body like a
temple when it is failing
Are you kidding?
Was that your plan to keep me grounded, well it’s not working
and the seed that you have planted is needing
things that I can’t give it

When I first hear the lines, I am smiling, nodding my head in agreement. I know this feeling that she is singing about perfectly. Our eyes meet just then, and she recalls this moment later when I’m talking to her after her set. But my smile swiftly turns to tears of guilt. Broken faith of several sorts. Yes, I do know this feeling perfectly.

All of the sets were ultra-acoustic. Like when Tyler, the drummer for The Head and The Heart, turned to a chair followed by the chandelier on the ceiling. Those of us who were there know what happened next. Don’t worry, the chandelier is fine. He said they were coming back soon to Boulder to play the Pearl Street Music Festival, and then again in June with Iron & Wine. I had all intentions of going to the festival (May 7th). But it was on the same night as my mom’s commencement ceremony (Yay, Mom!), and the sold-out Minus the Bear show in New York that my friends in Milagres were opening for. Why is it that there are always either three things to go to on the same night, or none?

I was probably 3 feet away from them, and the emotion gave me chills, especially since I could connect with the lyrics at such a deep level that tears were literally streaming down my face. I downloaded what amounts to a free EP when it was released, and it brings back every moment of that night perfectly. It was almost month to the day after the third and last repeat of my big breakup. The final one was the day before Valentine’s Day, and this night he was there. I kept my distance, especially since he was on a date. Which song first brought tears to my eyes? I think it was “Chasing A Ghost” that really did it.

I must be a fool
To go out and chase you
That’s just what, it’s just what I’ll do.

And I am
Chasing a ghost
And I am
A fool

Ever since
You packed up and walked away
Well, all my skies
Have all turned grey

For this ghost now stands but five feet away from me, this ghost I had for the entire evening tried to stay as far away from in this room as possible, but these words. I NEEDED to get closer to them, and I moved, now only 2 people between he and I.

The other songs that instantly pricked my tearducts didn’t get any easier:

Josh McBride

Darling this is when I met you
For the third time, not the last
Not the last time we are learning
Who we are and what we were

You are in the sea beside me
You are in my dreams at night

Rivers and Roads

Nothing is as it has been
And I miss your face like hell
And I guess it’s just as well
But I miss your face like hell
Been talkin’ ’bout the way things change

In the Summertime

Lord, give me to the one who makes me whole.

This is my prayer.

One part of me hopes that someday I can listen to this album without tears. And another part of me, the musician in me, who is proud of other musicians who can capture this much emotion in their songs, hopes that it will never change.

Shout out: I am extremely proud of my incredibly talented friends who helped record these songs.

Update: The Head and the Heart were voted the #2 band to see at SXSW by Spin magazine shortly after this concert. They exploded with popularity after that. Now they will be touring with one of my favorite bands Death Cab for Cutie, and The Decemberists.

Le Chat Lunatique: Brian Setzer in sepia

Le Chat Lunatique
Downtown Bar, Pueblo, CO
March 16, 2011

It’s [single-digit] am. Where: Your Town. We’re probably breaking some parental rule of some sort, like not eating our broccoli or reading under the covers when we are supposed to be in bed. And musicians are having communion. The kind that usually is reached at 5 am, but it’s much earlier than that, because this is that kind of place, where the groove happens immediately, surrounded by the trees and twinkly lights of Alex Szyleyko’s art installation. Slatted wooden chairs are used as güiros and tip jars are high hats. It’s the after-party, where impromptu jam sessions are the only constant. At one point, there are two fiddles, a guitar, a banjo and countless singers and percussion instruments being played, everyone taking turns shaping the theme, or just joining in. My stock conversation starters: Name your top 3 albums of the week, or all-time greatest influences. Has anything interesting happened on your tour so far?

Fernando Garavito and I met earlier in the night, me mistaking South America for South Africa as his home, but he says should have said the country Colombia, instead of the continent. I thought the show started at 7, but it turns out the change of venue also meant a change in time, so I have 2 hours to be restless. He’s soft-spoken, and I keep hearing a Celtic accent, though it isn’t. All of his aside, he takes his assignment very seriously and gives me his three flavors of the week (trail mix). No, greatest influences: pianist Aaron Goldberg, Fela Kuti, the godfather of the afrobeat (Fernando is the drummer), and don’t talk about Ringo Starr. That’s the day his parents disowned him for insulting them when he said he wasn’t impressed with Ringo’s abilities, we joke. His third, his standard last-resort answer, is jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown, who died at that magic age of 27. “Interesting is subjective. Our tour started today, and here we are in this pretty fucking cool place, unknowingly, being questioned by you about these ideas.” Something he says reminds me of a lyric in the Great Lake Swimmer’s song “Moving Pictures, Silent Films.” He’s never heard of them, and this is what communion is to musicians, sharing, learning. Another song lyric shoots through my head, “I don’t go to church on Sunday, I go each and every day. Ain’t no crucifix, just the music that we play.” God’s House, Grant Sabin.

Le Chat Lunatique is like Brian Setzer’s Orchestra, shot in sepia, with a bluegrass punctuation. They play covers you can’t quite place, they are so semantically different in style. They cringe when they say it, but call their style gypsy swing, but not exactly. I’d be surprised to find many other gypsy swing bands that sing songs in Japanese. They keep swearing THIS is their LAST song, but the crowd is having none of it. There are the hipsters in their plaid, the hippies and their dreads, tattoos, butch gals from the Pirate’s Cove next door, Philly kids, and Zuit Suit Riots, all together on the dance floor. Only here in this town. “We don’t play no white trash music, just euro trash!”

Blast this! Straight Up (Right-click to download, or click to play.)

Jared Putnam, the upright bass player, is easy. He shoots off his top 3 of the week. Chromeo. Metallica (the Master of Puppets album, stolen from Fernando). Jake Shimabukuro, a ukulele virtuoso. Muni tries to hijack Jared’s portion of the interview, while loading up equipment after the show, and Jared defends his time, insisting that Muni cower behind the dumpster. Muni refuses, spouting off what are surely curse words in a language I can’t recognize. He speaks French, Spanish, Arabic, either Sinhala or Tamil-his parents are Sri Lankan (it is probably this language I heard earlier). And shitty English, his bandmate interjects. “I am not going to lay down in that dumpster. Again.” I won’t print what else they are talking about, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I knew what they were used for.

Muni Kulasinghe, AKA “Moonie”, takes his communion with two-string harmonies on his fiddle. Despite his sweet serenades now, earlier he and his fiddle had the eclectic crowd both slow skankin’ and frenetically boot-stompin’ in the speakeasy. I finally pin him down in between songs in the dwindling jam session, and there are 2 influences. Stéphane Grappelli (cohort of Django Reihneart), and the polish gypsy he met traveling. He had no legs and was totally crazy. Oh, and Fernando. He says this tour is different: his girlfriend has made him deal nicely with himself and everyone else, because she makes him laugh like crazy, and so he has stopped riding everyone like bitches for their little fumbles. I have to think this must be a typical Muni-ism.

Johnny Sandlin thinks long and hard about which question he wants to answer. In his guitar lessons, he is introduced to new things by middle school and early high schoolers. One week it’s Taylor Swift, and the next week it’s Skillet. He’s excited about the upcoming Cake album after listening to an interview on NPR. From this, he is interested in the veteran’s perspective, and also the contributions of style on the guitar and trumpet. His latest discovery is Zoltán Kodály, a classical composer he stumbled onto while needing something non-fluffy to do his taxes to. Zoltan is a cello virtuoso, a Bulgarian, with early 20th century influences, like Debussy. His all time biggest influence, he hesitates to say Django Reinheart, and instead it’s his revivalist Paul “Tchan Tchou” Vidal, bouzouki player. This sparks a discussion about Devotchka, and how they haven’t played Albuquerque since Little Miss Sunshine was out. Touring the southwest is hard, any drive is 5 hours long at minimum.

Transportation is a logistical nightmare for smaller touring bands. Choices are flying, then renting a car, or driving around in a larger vehicle (conversion vans, mini-buses, rv’s), towing a trailer, or cramming people, equipment and luggage into a minivan, which is their current method. All have pluses and minuses. Les Chats once did a tour by rail, on the Southwest Chief line from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. They quickly earned a reputation among the train operators when they slept in a sleeper car they hadn’t paid for, and snuck beer onto the train. He wishes that they could do it again, and only play at venues a block from the train station like they did in Truckee, CA, so they don’t have to rent a car to haul their gear around once they step off the platform. I tell him that Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Fields just announced a similar idea with their Railroad Revival Tour, though it appears they chartered their own train. It’s an idea that we both hope spreads amongst musicians, venues and transportation authorities.

As I leave the performance venue on my way to the after party, heated discussions about nuclear power continue at the bar. Ahhh, the sweet life.

The Color Pharmacy: I will sneak inside your soul

The Color Pharmacy (Minneapolis, MN)
The Sudden Lovelys (Minneapolis, MN)

The Red Raven, Pueblo, CO
March 3, 2011

I had been looking forward to the Color Pharmacy’s show since I listened to their tracks online. Mid-set, the three boys step off the stage and get more intimate with the crowd. They play two songs. The first is “David,” a song that suggests feelings of guilt about a soldier’s return to modern civilization. The drum kit is left behind for shakers and foot stomps and claps of the crowd. The bassist dons a harmonica for the second song, “Fancy Boat,” about the experience of touring, and not selling out. The line that hooks me is “This isn’t what I thought I wanted, but it turns out to be more than I need.” Something about substances and getting fucked sticks out like a streaker running across the quad, and I leave the dance floor to whisper about it to my friend, who is sitting on the couch. The crowd is hooked, and it’s an experience none of us wants to come to an end. So the band plays continues, with an unplanned cover of Pj Harvey’s “This Mess We’re In,” rephrasing a line as a shout out to the hosts.

“Don’t ever change Red Raven
And thank you”

Later after the show, I ask my favorite question as a music lover: give me your top 3 flavors of the week. They always squawk. It’s too hard of a question, 5 would be easier. Matt O’Brien, the bassist, is stuck on The National, Delta Spirit and Manchester Orchestra, but only after crossing their recent showmates Usonia off the list. Jacob Quam (drummer, backing vox), also likes The National and Manchester Orchestra, but takes Mumford & Sons as his third. It’s funny to me how there’s always someone who can guess another member’s answers. So Matt guesses Jake Dilley’s (the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist) answers as The National, REM and Radiohead. And he hit all three, but not in the same order of priority. Jake says he isn’t much into the most recent Radiohead album (who is?) but he goes for Amnesiac and Kid A. Though, we both agree it was pretty cool how King of Limbs was released, little fanfare, online, and early.

They think Mumford & Sons are a one off of Trampled by Turtles, and I think “Little Talks” by Of Monsters And Men, which to me has an uncanny resemblance to “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I’m playing them all of my recent favorites, and somehow my most recent painting makes its way out, half-covered with song lyrics. I challenge Jake to place all of them, as we have a great deal of overlap in our musical tastes. He describes a video of it burning, an idea he says I can have. They used to travel with multiple videos playing behind them. With all of their theatrics, it’s not hard to understand why they have so many upcoming shows booked at SXSW.

The band is accompanied by Jimmy Morrison, who gets driving duties, especially after late nights. Jimmy is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and had a video camera attached to his face for much of the performance, and into the early morning as we took stop motion frames of a Lego project. He seems to be such an integral part of their band that I want to know what he listens to also. He says his top 3 current favorites are Andrew Bird, M. Ward, and “Texatonka” the Color Pharmacy’s current album.

Sleeping arrangements are discussed, inspiring talk about drawing invisible no-touching boundaries on beds. Or not so invisible, like wanting to use razor blades when you’re mad at your partner, or duct tape across the entire room, like Wayne did to Kevin in an episode of “The Wonder Years.” Jimmy fesses up about his snoring problem.

The Sudden Lovelys have left for bed before our film project is complete. There are no other words to describe Paige Prescher and Danny Ferraro other than lovely. Paige is a fantastic photographer, and they make beautiful music together. I want their life in way no one can understand. Jake guesses Danny’s top 3 as Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon and Bone Thugs n Harmony, but Danny says Leonard Cohen, Ween, the Avett Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel. Paige shares Leonard Cohen and Ween, and can’t think of anything else. They are extremely gracious guests, and I feel bad for keeping them up so late. Be sure to check out this tune:

Blast this! Sudden Lovelys-Take It With You (Click to play in your default mp3 program, or right-click to download.)

The next day, I pop in ColoRx’s latest cd, Texatonka in my car, and I’m back in the throes by the end of the first song. I’m singing the lines “Before the nighttime’s over, I will find a way to sneak into your so-oul” at the top of my lungs in catharsis. There is a dissonance in the section change “Something was wrong, I guess I should have known” that is disconcerting. It wakes the listener the hell up. You thought you could coast through this listening experience, didn’t you, and you were wrong. Jake Dilley’s voice reminds me of Peter Gabriel at times, and Elvis Costello at others, with lingering word endings. The lyrics are solid and the album has quickly become one of my flavors of the week. There are sudden key and time signature changes that will keep a seasoned musician holding on. Ride Pt.2 reminds of our discussions about our recent breakups, about giving in to what your partner wants. There’s a complex emotional depth to the lyrics that haunt me, like he’s singing my story in every song, how love is the wonder drug, and how I keep trying to figure out who I am. Every time I hear the way the vocals sound far away on Violin Wind, I remember the description of the nightmare that inspired it. There is honestly not one single song on this album that doesn’t grab me, and I can see why Jimmy Morrison feels the same. I wish I had a chance to listen to it in depth before the interview, I’d ask him what the line about Mirrorballs means.

Blast this!! The Color Pharmacy-Before the Nighttime’s Over (Right-click to download or click to play.) I wish I could post every single song, but this one is the most intense. Please check them out if they come to your town, and buy Texatonka.

I can’t wait for them to come back, but they better play their Devotchka cover next time. I hope that I will see this band opening for a headliner like Death Cab for Cutie someday, if I have my way. Help me spread the word.