Milagres: Birds sing in the key of H

Milagres (Brooklyn, NY)
Fingers of the Sun (Denver, CO)
Dear Rabbit (Colorado Springs, CO)

Red Raven, Pueblo, CO
April 3, 2011

Tonight they will fall asleep to The Life Aquatic, but as they leave the stage, they express the desire to score a soundtrack to the film backing them on the 20 foot movie screen, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s one of my favorites, but I’ve been purposefully trying to avoid it lately, without much luck, as it’s the second time that day I encounter it. (Not a good post-break-up movie.) But here, accompanied by the music of Milagres, it’s the best reintroduction to the movie one could possibly hope for. The Wurlitzer-sounding keys begin, and a second keyboard pierces the groove, closing their set with “Glowing Mouth.” It’s easy to detect why two of the members list Radiohead as their current influence, especially when I search for a song off the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack that “Glowing Mouth” reminds me of. The five-piece group is effects-heavy, vocal and instrumentally, some songs feature a two drummers or keyboardists. At least 3 of them had pedal boards with multiple units attached. Watching their footwork was every bit as mesmerizing as the sound they created.

Blast this! Milagres – Glowing Mouth (Radio Edit) (Right-click to download.)

After the set, I approach the first member to stop packing up equipment and take a seat on one of the comfy couches in the middle of the music hall. Chris Brazee, the keyboardist tries to send me away, Kyle Wilson (the lead singer) usually handles the interviews. But he quickly loosens up, and talks about that day’s 10-hour drive, with near white-out conditions in Wyoming en route from Ogden, Utah. This is their last self-booked tour. They recently signed with the label Kill Rock Stars, who also once represented the Decemberists. He can’t name his top three current favorite albums, even though Master of Puppets is what comes up on his iPod, it doesn’t make it on his list. He’s really stuck on PJ Harvey’s new album, Let England Shake, and only the back end of the new Radiohead album, though the front end is growing on him.

No one wants to repeat each other’s selections. And they don’t always want me to tell you what they really said, sometimes making them feel overexposed when I write it down anyway. Eric Schwortz (guitar, electronic drums, backing vox) picks a band that is also from Brooklyn, Hooray For Earth, as well as Low’s new album and Jose Gonzalez of the Swedish band Junip, which he says makes for good driving music. Fraser McCulloch (bass, keys, backing vox) picks his new labelmate Deerhoof, Glass Ghost and the song “New York Groove” by Hello. No one ever sticks to the rules, because the rules are, there are no rules. Obviously. Steve Keventhal, the drummer, can’t decide either- something between Deerhoof, The National and Queen, among others. Eric interjects that Steve can also play some mean piano and guitar covers, along with his stick skills. He lists my ever-favorite Guitar Hero 5 Vampire Weekend song, “A-Punk.”

The opening act stops by, thinking he is leaving, but I see him later on, when both of our eyes are blinking, heavy-laden with sleep. Dear Rabbit killed it tonight. He live looped layers of acoustic guitar and mellow trumpet, a la Andrew Bird, and then sang into his guitar pickups for yet another layer. I tell my friend Peter, “See why I want him to do a Devotchka cover?” One level of reward for his Kickstarter campaign means he is obliged to record it, and I’ve convinced him to let me appear on it. For his last song, he asked the concert-goers to follow him if he left the stage. As promised, he unplugged and walked off stage-right into the intimate foyer where an old out-of-tune piano sat waiting, and England and I were ready to follow him. In this room, with the faded yellow lights, red plaster peeling from the window, and turn-of-the-century wiring, we traveled back in time, and Dear Rabbit was our soundtrack.

Things settle down, and no one goes to sleep as early as they predict. First, there are rounds of intellectual discussion about things like the lack of good public transportation around the US (wouldn’t it be cool if it were like in “Minority Report”?), under-age drinking, and getting signed to a label too young, before you’ve had time to develop a musical identity. Eric’s post office in NY has been rated the worst for theft in the nation and Kyle recently realized that Eric didn’t know you can leave outgoing mail in your mailbox if you’re anywhere in the country except NYC. They’d rather I didn’t tell you these things also. They’d rather me tell you they were surrounded by throngs hot girls and were wasted the entire night, but this isn’t true. However, there are multiple cats who have come down from the owners’ apartment upstairs, and Murphy, the dog, sporting a wig. This is how they want to conduct interviews from now on, with lots of animals bounding around.

Kyle and I discuss books, though everything I ask if he has read (David Sedaris, Malcolm Gladwell) is something that Eric has read, but not him. Despite our different tastes (he’s in the middle of a Steinbeck novel), Kyle suggests that “Everything is Illuminated” will be received well in my life right now. We disagree about who co-wrote the Where the Wild Things Are screenplay with Spike Jones. Eric and Kyle are both convinced that it is Charlie Kaufman, but I know it is TED wish prize winner Dave Eggers. Even though I couldn’t remember his name, I’ll never forget his talk “Once Upon a School.” Kyle thinks long and hard about his three choices before arriving at Sharon Van Etton’s album Because I Was In Love, Kanye West, and the boom metal band Mournful Congregation, the description of which reminds me of Danzig’s Black Aria that I listened to half my lifetime ago. We also marvel at how NY doesn’t hear of any of the west coast or mid-west bands, and vice versa, though they are opening for a sold out concert in NY for Minus the Bear- a Seattle band. Their publicist hadn’t yet announced this as of that night, not that it mattered since it was already sold out.

As I walk down the steep stairs to the outside, where snow covers my car, and where the traffic has quieted, I think how perfect the music was for the mood of this night. We were supposed to be in Denver at that moment, and even though my early tomorrow is going to be rough, I’m glad I convinced Peter to come down instead. They are playing the Walnut Room there tomorrow. I fully expect to hear about Milagres much more in the future.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

Sleeping in the Aviary

Sleeping in the Aviary (Minneapolis, MN)

Haunted Windchimes (Pueblo, CO)
Sasquatch (Pueblo, CO)

The Red Raven, Pueblo, CO

February 14, 2011

There are footballs whizzing by overhead, the music is a bit too loud, and no one is ok to drive anywhere. It’s an after-party, my first with a touring band. I decide to do an interview, hoping my new arrangement writing an art column with the Pueblo P.U.L.P. will lead somewhere into music eventually. I should be home in bed, but I’ve decided to treat myself to a vacation day tomorrow, as I’ve had a helluva bad weekend. Practically everyone is a stranger to me, except Felicia, someone I met just days ago at my first meeting at the paper. I’ve been to this place once with a friend from out of town, and once for an art reception, but a couple more people I know are supposed to show up. The only reason I came to this show was my ex was a fan of the Haunted Windchimes, and I had planned on attending with him. But c’est la vie, and I decided to come alone in lieu of staying home alone on Valentine’s Day. I’ve had a wonderful evening so far, making new friends, walking to nearby neighborhood bars and convenience stores for frozen pizzas, and I’m not ready to call it a night just yet.

I approach Kyle Szobchek, long before I figure out he’s in the band. (I was busy dancing my ass off, not even looking much at the stage.) He’s quietly sitting on a chair in the back of the room, with his hands folded in his lap, in a Batman shirt, which I later find out is borrowed. It spurs a discussion about my Halloween pumpkin carving project- Pacman and the ghosts. He has a wig on, but it doesn’t look much different than his real hair below, only longer, and slightly different colored. What strikes me most is that he is the spitting image of my ex-brother-in-law, Will.

When I devise the plan to actually conduct an interview, he points me to Elliott Kozel, the lead singer, it’s normally his role, but I want to interview them all. I don’t know where I’m going with this, I’m not going to lie, this is my first interview ever. Somehow, I come up with a few questions, one of which I end up sticking to in the future. Elliott is dressed in a plaid shirt, and a jacket that looks like a 1960’s pastel flowered couch.  Unfortunately, so far on the tour, he’s had to stop at the hospital twice, once for a broken foot (good story), and once for a severe ear infection. Something about him reminds me of Bill Murray in Osmosis Jones. I finally come up with a good question- name your top 3 all time favorite bands or albums. Or just your favorites for this week. Unfortunately, I’m writing on a ridiculously small piece of paper, and everyone keeps changing their mind. So these are either bands I need to check out because I like Sigor Ros, or Elliot’s favorites:  Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai. The other entries are either Elliot’s list or Kyle’s guesses for Celeste:  Bingo Trappers (Juanita Avenue album), Spacemen 3, Barry White and Rick James… Yeah, these sound more like Elliott.

Someone returns with cases of PBR and Red Stripe and Phil Mahlstadt (lead bass, he says, even though there is only one bassist) dives on the floor and uses them as pillows and blankets. He might as well have licked every can and bottle. Phil is the one in the band who likes to drive, and, like me, has a photographic memory for the places he’s been and the map of where they are headed. His current picks seem to only be Weird Al’s Straight Outta Linwood album, and Johnny and the Church Camp Rebels, his old band in which he played Johnny, the style of which he calls acoustic punk spiritual. A Google search turns up Myspace pleas from the people of Madison, Wisconsin to please come back. And a recording of a radio show.

I make my way over to Celeste Heule (accordion, vocals), thinking to myself, she probably thinks I’ve been hitting on the boys. Last night was one of those nights, where no one could sleep. They were staying at the s00kr33m in Denver, and Celeste was awoken by either a shared hypnogogic hallucination or a visit from a ghost. It appeared to her at first as a dog, and she wasn’t concerned, saying, “Oh, it’s just you.” But as it got closer, it turned into something more sinister looking, and then visited Elliott in the form of a woman. When I ask what she listens to on the road, she says she doesn’t anymore because the headphones were like an isolation booth, and she missed out on whatever everyone was laughing about all the time. But she gives her current flames as Chopin, Captain Beefheart -rest in peace (so Pamela Des Barres of you Celeste!), and Black Sabbath. Later in the jam session, I try on her beautiful accordion, and I have a new found appreciation for its weight, not to mention how hard it is to play the two sides, while squeezing. Anyone who plays this instrument (and sings at the same time!) gets major props in my book.

I make it to the final member, Michael Sienkowski, the drummer better known as Swayze. Earlier his face was plastered with neon pink heart stickers in celebration of the occasion. A couple of the others have nicknames too- Porkchop and the cat-like Mittens. The conversation degrades to who everyone would be, if they were a muppet. Elliott is most obviously Animal, even I can see this after his performance onstage. Phil is Kermit, Kyle is Fozzy, and Michael is Ralph’s sense of humor, without the jazzy stoner element. He’s into the Kinks and Motown and girl groups like Martha and the Vandellas, Missy Elliot, Chris Clark, The Supremes, and The Temptations, just to name a few. He’s still pretty pumped about some shows they played with the Murdock’s down in Texas. I appreciate how his love of pianos caused him to move one through a 6 foot tunnel of snow, like he did once in Madison.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The night is never-ending, with a long jam session, including a rendition of the kid’s song Down By the Bay in which each person in the giant circle of musicians takes turns giving a new rhyming line in place of “Did you ever see a _____, _____ing a _____.” And a football game, which is mostly comprised of the 6 of us making up touchdown dances, when I’m not taking passes in the face.

Blast this! The Very Next Day I Died (Right-click to download.)

Their antics make it easy to see why they have lyrics about Maria forgetting the safety word and now she’s dead. Or people gargling as background singers. Or why the couples dance was a song about being in love with someone else. (PLEASE tell me there is a recording of this somewhere?) The SITA show and after-party has been the most talked about among my circle of friends since that night. They sold something like 30 albums, and I can’t go anywhere without hearing it before too long. We hope more will join us in the aviary. Trust me, it’s a snuggly warm place to sleep.

Buy the limited edition poster for this show from Last Leaf!