ARTICLE: "New Phish Box Set Brings Back the Bliss"
Photo: Brantley Gutierrez
The release of the economically titled Phish box set “Hampton/Winston-Salem ‘97” provided a chance to review the release by way of my memory banks of the original shows. Part review, part essay, full-on musing. It’s nice to have an excuse to write about Phish, which doesn’t happen very often nowadays.
“‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,’ Wordsworth wrote of the French Revolution. ‘But to be young was very heaven!’
Allow me to hyperbolically apply the same equation to the act of seeing Phish play at the Hampton Coliseum in 1997.”
I had the chance to just run with a sort of essay on Steely Dan by way of preparing the populace for their show at Tanglewood on Tuesday evening. Had the chance to quote some of my favorite Dan lyrics; I’m curious to hear what anyone may think of this. Just click on “Comments and Reactions” below.
"Fagen’s lyrics are frequently so dry, so cynical, so dense with in-jokes and references that hint at worlds of meaning while remaining curtly mysterious, that even hipsters can find this radio-ready mainstream behemoth to be irresistible.
In detail-rich lines dense with cultural signifiers—Dean and Deluca and Gramercy Park, a car phone in a Chrysler (in 1980), Cuervo Gold and “fine Columbian”—Fagen depicts a world of cocktail lounges and late-night ice cream parlors, romantic conquests that lead to malaise and romantic failures that inspire pride, white men possessing disposable income and a good dose of nihilism.
ARTICLE: "Playing backup to Charlie Chaplin" (Marc Ribot)
I had the chance to write about Marc Ribot’s solo-guitar score for Charlie Chaplin’s The Kidin today’s Boston Globe. He performs it tonight at good ‘ole MASS MoCA.
“I don’t want it to be heard as a concert. I want to disappear, which is what good film scoring does. If the effect is done perfectly, people will think they’re seeing what they’re, in fact, hearing. It’s a kind of alchemy.’’
So, we’re heading toward the end of June and the Solid Sound Festival II is fixin’ to get nasty at MASS MoCA up in North Adams this weekend. Last year, it proved a very mellow weekend of pleasant surprises. This second take boasts two completeish shows by Wilco, plus sets from Thurston Moore and his partially acoustic five-piece, Thurston and Nels Cline together as the Pillow Wand duo, Dave Douglas and the cats he’s apparently plain’ with these days, and Glenn Kotche under his own name as well as joining with On Fillmore partner Darin Gray for an in-gallery, all-improv set on found instruments of various types. And of course the de rigueur bout of falconry.
I’ll be propagating various bits of data, photos, video, analysis and the like throughout the festival, via various venues I can talk about later. Last year, I managed to come away with some pretty decent photos and I hope to this year again as well.
Fun fact of the day: when asked, in a pre-festival interview, G. Kotche told me he and Jeff Tweedy would love to mount a live Loose Fur gig, but Jim O’ Rourke can apparently be summoned from his adoptive Tokyo for no deed. Alas!
I had the chance to see The Trip at Berkshire International Film Festival. It’s a compendium of episodes of a six-part series that aired on BBC2, and not coincidentally has some serious pace issues (it needs to be cut by about a quarter). But when it hits, it hits. In fact, you can perhaps think of in relation to Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story as Made is to Swingers. The same two actors playing very similar characters (almost spin-offs) and a less consequential film, but with stretches that are more searingly funny than anything in their generally superior predecessors.
While we’re at it, why not look at the other films mentioned above…
"Great Barrington festival transforms a town, a season"
I had the chance to write about the Berkshire International Film Festival for this Sunday’s Boston Globe. This means I’ve now written about this festival for four different publications over the course of its six years; it was a challenge to avoiding repeating myself and still keep it fresh, while still introducing the event to the publication’s readers, since the Globe had not previously covered the BIFF to this extent. You can read the article on the Globe’s website, here.
In a nice twist, my feature shared the front of the Movies section with a big piece on Terrence Malick, whose new film (Tree of Life) won the Palme d’Or last week and was just added to the BIFF schedule, as part of the Saturday night tribute to Douglas Trumbull (who supervised the special effects on the film). It looks like the Kendal Square Theatre in Somerville is the only other place in the area where you can see this film for now. (The BIFF screening, btw, is only open to folks with $250 or $500 passes
I’ll be tweeting from the BIFF, and likely updating this space with reviews and photos.
ARTICLE: "Of Borscht, Flaubert and Hungarian Mustache Wax" (Bella's Bartok)
I’m pleased to have the cover story in this week’s Metroland, about the Berkshire/Pioneer Valley band Bella’s Bartok. (Metroland, for ausländers, is the alt-weekly for Albany and the New York Capital Region.) I knew I’d seen them in various situations—playing in the parking lot, at a Halloween party, in a friend’s living room—but didn’t realize I also saw their first-ever gig, at a Summer Solstice Festival (that’s how we do it out here.)
For the interview, I caught up with them backstage at Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre (after attending a different show, Larry Chernicoff’s Miniature Orchestra, a few minutes away) and then over at Mission Bar and Tapas, on a night where the person in charge of the CD player got a little 80’s-happy.
“’The best thing about Bella’s Bartok for me is that we’re all the biggest fucking nerds. None of us are too cool for school, none of us are …’ Torres declares, pausing several seconds to find the right word before landing simply on ‘cool.’ Later, as if seeking to prove the point, Putnam notes that he is wearing his green, ‘going-out’ cardigan. ‘I have a brown one for home,’ he clarifies dryly.”
ARTICLE: "Two Gents swing" (Two Man Gentlemen Band)
Caught the Two Man Gentleman Band last Friday at Gypsy Joynt, which just relocated from mini-strip-mall-land to downtown in Great Barrington. This review ran in today’s Berkshire Eagle. BTW, the band responded to the review by tweet and noted that Andy Beane has indeed purchased a house in Great Barrington.
"It’s easy to assume the two are working their way through forgotten chestnuts of a earlier era, what with endorsements of "reefer" and songs about William Howard Taft and feasting on rabbit—a harder-edged history of Roaring 20’s swing in which plans to pop amphetamines and drink chocolate milk all night are eagerly detailed. But then you notice a reference to Ritalin, and begin to realize these are all original tunes.
We were right about abolition. We were right about the Fugitive Slave Act. We were right about women having the right to vote. We were right about direct election of United States Senators. We were right about creating unions, about workplace safety, about child labor, about the eight-hour workday. We were right about creating the weekend. We were right about segregation and we were right about the Civil Rights Act. We were right about creating Social Security, about creating Medicare, about creating Medicaid. We were right about public water and about access to electricity. We were right about automobile safety. We were right about industrial pollution, about the thinning ozone layer, about recycling, about global climate change. We were right about women having the full rights of citizenship.
On each of these issues, right down the line, we triumphed over intense opposition. We dislodged the long-accepted policies of the ruling class. And with the passage of time, the matter of who is on the right side of history has seldom been ambiguous. This isn’t just rhetoric—look at the list above. A look at issues on which we didn’t necessarily prevail (yet) holds the same lesson. We were right about Viet Nam, about the Gulf War, about Iraq. We were right about the abuse of civil liberties by Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. We were right about “trickle down” economics.
In light of that, consider that nowadays we’re right about gay rights and same-sex marriage. We’re right about net neutrality. We’re right about universal health care. We’re right about regulation of the financial industry, about regulation of the telecommunications industry, about regulation of oil drilling and of coal mining. We’re (still) right about trickle-down economics and its perpetual tax cuts for the richest.
The same people continue to have the same arguments about the same essential issue.
Though there’s a clear trend, progressive causes have been championed by Democrats and by Republicans; the same is true for conservative causes. Regardless of political party, conservative policies harness the twin powers of government and business to limit individual freedoms and take the treasure and labor of the vast majority, to re-route it toward the richest and most powerful among us. (For those who benefit, it’s rewarding and gratifying and nothing new, down through the centuries and around the world.) That’s seldom their rhetorical justification—and, importantly, it is not the intent of those who form their popular support—but it is almost always their practical effect. Progressives believe in the inherent, essential dignity of the human being, and the right to enjoy a reasonable standard of living in exchange for a lifetime of honest labor. We believe that government exists to step in to protect the vast majority who have limited wealth and limited power, to protect them from the creeping excesses of those who have an abundance of both. By definition, it is never easy to do this.
Progressives believe, at its simplest, that the public good of the vast majority outweighs the private good of the very few. That’s the fault line upon which any political issue in modern American history sits. Go back through the lists above; almost any one can be boiled down to this core conflict.
ARTICLE: "Night and Day: Iron and Wine" (Metroland)
“‘I wouldn’t say I sat down and said ‘I’m going to write a ’70s pop record. You try a couple different arrangements for a song and sometimes what works is a Wurlitzer—and you start playing it and it starts to sound like ‘Daniel.” —Sam Beam
I chatted with a man possessing a much-admired beard for this advance feature in Metroland on Iron and Wine, who play MASS MoCA’s big room, the Hunter Center, on Saturday. It sold clear out just about three or four weeks after tickets went on sale, and has only built in interest since—with added value from the presence of The Low Anthem as support act, who themselves sold out the cabaret room at the venue on March 5. (See my review here.)
"Samuel Beam has been at the leading edge of the hipster reconsideration of American folk and Appalachian music that blossomed into a bona fide subgenre—call it beard rock—for nearly a decade.
Unlike the sound of bands who might be considered first or second cousins to Iron and Wine, Beam’s is informed by American roots music but doesn’t set out to be the musical equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg.”
In the first week of March, 2009, the very interesting then-trio The Low Anthem played a gig at Mission Bar and Tapas, the rather tiny nightspot that makes a welcome habit of booking talent that seems a bit above its head. It was a few months after the self-release of Oh My God Charlie Darwin, a record that would be picked up later that year and become the band’s breakthrough—at least into the circuit of interesting bands that end up being profiled and playing live sets for NPR with regularity. It was also shortly before Rolling Stone announced their “breaking” status.
Later that year they made an appearance at the rooftop party kicking off the first Word X Word Festival, and then played the opening night show on a bill that included poet Taylor Mali, at Barrington Stage Company’s second stage. Last November, they played a word-of-mouth, under the radar show at a warehouse in Pittsfield to maybe a hundred or so people. Then their headlining show at MASS MoCA’s Club B-10 last weekend sold out quickly after a generous profile on the band ran in The New York Times' Sunday Style section the week their new album came out.
I’ve had the chance to write about them on all of these occasions (and included the end of “This Goddamn House,” as performed at Mission, as one of my Top 5 musical moments of 2009 in my year-end recap in the Berkshire Eagle). These pieces have spanned three different publications, so on each occasion I’ve been challenged to provide an introduction of sorts to the reader, while moving the story forward from the last time I checked in on them—and also avoid recycling any language. It’s a challenge I’ve really enjoyed, and something seems to click for me with this subject, as I think it’s brought out some fine work.
"The sublime blend of sounds achieved by the quartet’s extensive stock of vintage instruments—from pump organ to musical saw, clarinets to jaw harp—felt as light as a growing shadow and as heavy as history itself. It is old and new and strange and eerie, of no place in particular but perhaps summoned from some murky place in our collective unconscious."
ARTICLE: "Bluegrass at its peak" (The Travelin' McCourys)
I ranged a little far in this review of The Travelin’ McCourys’ show at Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre last Saturday, reflecting on the differing emotional palettes that various streams of American popular music are best suited to employ, and how the McCourys’ performance relates to the expectations of their genre. (I should note, also, the version on my website is a little different from the version that ran in print, as an earlier version was mistakenly printed. I do stand by the printed version as my work; the revised version just has some improved language.)
"Instrumental jazz may be the most personal of American musical forms, with its players sublimating emotional drive into the cry of a horn or the maniacally precise rap of a high-hat. Ken Burns can argue that jazz is a metaphor for democracy, but I hear (in the frenzied rush of bebop, particularly) a sort of existential desperation, each player jousting to get his own statement in while he still can.
Is it a coincidence that blues and bluegrass, two forms of folk music born from rural poverty and political impotence, are each preoccupied with, well, feeling bad?
The sharply dressed, amiable group put on a display of top-notch traditional bluegrass, hewing expertly to the genre’s conventions but never seeking to subvert them.”
"Of the more than 100 Grammys awarded last year, only nine were actually presented during the telecast, making room for superstar medleys, cover versions, and pyrotechnics. It was like watching a demented cross between the Super Bowl halftime show and The Last Waltz."
The Indignity Must Perish, engraving by J.C. Armytage from M.A. Wageman’s painting.
On Saturday, January 29th, I live-tweeted my inspirational journey on the historic busride re-tracing the steps of a key episode in the Battle of Egremont, the "Trail of Awkward Silence" upon which Corporal A.E. Puffington led a ramshackle platoon of farmers on that day in 1705. A fairly rigorous historical survey indicates I am the first person to live-tweet a community remembrance of the Battle of Egremont, a beyond-obscure historical episode born of the looming Western Massachusetts hills that has nevertheless exerted a profound influence on not only the surviving community but the early development of the nation.
Here, in one place, is a chronicle of my roundbreaking live coverage this weekend. (Mostly tweets; a few Facebook statuses as well.)* Some photos were uploaded from the scene, but in assembling this material here I’ve also added some period illustrations pulled from my research.
Some choose to ignore (at least publicly) the lingering impact this bitter, bloody rift still has upon the communities of North and South Egremont, some 306 years later. (At least the food in historic Benjamin Hall after some public remembrance or another is typically delicious; though admittedly, you’re right, the cider is mediocre at best.)
*Found Sounds and Such…, I might had, also saw two live, from-the-scene posts—a bit of text providing a link to the tweet stream, and a photo of “Chilly Whiskers.”
Some of the below text has been cleaned up a bit from its original posting, and the searchable hashtag that punctuated each tweet—#BattleofEgremont—has been removed (unless originally integrated into the text of the tweet).
9:31 AM Jan 29th
Only about 12 people are cued up for historic bus tour on 306th anniversary of key #BattleofEgremont event. Makes sense though; next year is the big one.
9:52 Jan 29th (Facebook status)
Right now! Live-tweeting historic busride of major Battle of Egremont event. (We have not forgotten!)
9:55 AM Jan 29th
Today in 1705, Corporal A.E. Puffington led march of irregulars on famed ‘Trail of Awkward Silence.’ Seen as a turning point in #BattleofEgremont
Portrait of Corporal A.E. Puffington, Gilbert Stuart (1796)
10:00 AM Jan 29th Bus route re-traces stretches of hillsides and fields where the grueling, nearly afternoon-long trek occurred.
10:02 AM Jan 29th
Today: gorgeous bright sun on freshly fallen snow. But no seatbelts on this BRTA-issued bus. And a rocky ride.
10:05 AM Jan 29th Several riders are in period garb.
10:22 AM Jan 29th Shrapply’s Meadow.
This view is from outside the Parson’s bush-boundary.
10:25 AM Jan 29th This hill is informally called Chilly Whiskers. It was a spot recently adapted by the native Mahicans for public recreation (inspired by Greek gymnasium culture, described at length by the friendlier English settlers by fireside.)
10:30 AM Jan 29th We are nearing the clearing where the (in)famous ‘biscuit dissatisfaction’ became more acute. Chills!
10:34 AM Jan 29th (Facebook status)
Thing are heating up on this Battle of Egremont bus tour. Spread the word! All the action is on Twitter. #BattleofEgremont
10:38amJo Duran: Thanks for doing this Jeremy. Helps the rest who are not able. 8-)
11:35am Stacy Parsons: Sad I’m missing this story!
11:40amJeremy D. Goodwin:Yeah Stacy; though I’m sure you’ll come out for the big 307th anniversary next year. Pass the word: #BattleofEgremont.
3:13pmStacy Parsons: Wouldn’t miss the 307th anniversary! Looking forward to the reenactment.
10:50 AM Jan 29th Corporal A.E. Puffington had declared in rousing morning speech, “And I’ll be the first to break out your biscuits, boys!”
10:51 AM Jan 29th
But by mid-morning it became apparent that the biscuits were not packed.
Biscuit Discontent Among the Men, Howard Pyle, charcoal on parchment (1773)
11:11 AM Jan 29th
(A.E. Puffington’s full name: Ambrose E. Puffington.)
11:13 AM Jan 29th
As the late-morning waned, the men awaited a declaration of biscuit break. The precious basket having been left back at Benjamin Hall, there was none forthcoming.
11:13 AM Jan 29th
Puffington could not show his weakness by acknowledging the error, so affected a lack of desire for delicious, fruit-smeared biscuit.
11:17AM Jan 29th
Moving snowball fight at sight of the discontent. Long, contemplative ride back toward town.
11:33 AM Jan 29th A couple of #scenekids are running informal #johnnycake concessions on the chilly fairgrounds.
11:47 AM Jan 29th We are standing in a circle in field, singing an English folk tune that was adopted by S. Egremont before the split.
11:54 AM Jan 29th And, of course, a reading of Frost’s ‘Meloncholia in a glade (the memory of Grapefruit.’
11:21 AM Jan 29th BTW, broke out delicious McGuido (on everything bagel w/ ham) and homefries from @FuelGreatBarrington this morning.
12:14 PM Jan 29th
Getting toward the end of the festivities.
12:20 PM Jan 29th OK, headed back to Benjamin Hall for refreshments and reflections.
12:32 PM Jan 29th
Ceremonial lemon crumpets are delicious. Descendant of Dr. J. Witherspoon offers benediction. Finally, arm wrestling.
12:35 PM Jan 29th
I always find these events to be less Puritan Gothic than Protestant Itchyshirt. And the ubiquitous smoked salmon, I cannot explain.
12:36 PM Jan 29th In the attempt to mine cultural import, the lox is a red herring.
Egremont inheritance, Paul Revere, mezzotint (1669)
12:46 PM Jan 29th Well, signing off from historic bus ride. “We will not forget!”. Next event in the historically informed local mythology will be spring “grapefruit” hunt. (An antiseptic invocation of such a bitter episode!)
12:47 PM Jan 29th
But that’s how we process the trauma, I know.
12:32 PM Jan 29th
No drum and fife band this year, btw. Lame.
12:51 PM Jan 29th (Facebook status)
Well, that’s it…I signed off from the “Trail of Awkward Silence” bus tour. Mixed feelings; it was poignant, politically ambiguous, high-carb. But good way to begin run-up to 307th anniversary of the Battle of Egremont. See the tweets, #BattleofEgremont. Feel free to share; and remember, Egremont Awareness really is the key to healing.
“If you come out of an African worldview, music has always been the tool through which you have conversations. It’s always been the way you document things that are going on, it’s always have been the way you deal with things that are problematic and the way you look for inspiration and direction,” longtime Sweet Honey in the Rock member Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell says.
“Singing for me is always a metaphor. It is the act of singing, but it’s a way of finding your voice and finding a way to blend your voice in some harmonious way with other people, and using that as a way of coming together and having a dialog.”
It’s nice looking back on the year and remembering how many opportunities I had to go see great music and talk to interesting people. My “year in review” piece for the Berkshire Eagle touches upon artists ranging from Wilco to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Herbie Hancock to Vampire Weekend. This also includes lots of links to some of my favorite pieces I had the chance to write in 2010. The “top five” list of concerts includes some of the above artists plus Yo Yo Ma, McCoy Tyner and Lauren Ambrose and The Leisure Class. Lots going on around here.
"Kid Koala pulls out a black-covered journal with ‘Space Cadet’ written in white lettering on its front, and flips through pages of a hand-drawn piano score to find a blank space. Sketching out the planned layout for the gallery of drawings and the performance space, he talks about his efforts to create an immersive experience that reinforces the storyline of the book, which he says is essentially about loneliness, family, and human connection.
'I can't play guitar and sing very well, I don't write good poetry, but I can go lock myself in a room and read all these manuals about turntables and master all these crazy 5,000-knob mixing desks,' he says.
Very cool video from Babelgum.com on Kid Koala and his Space Cadet project: a graphic novel (about an astronaut and her robot guardian) with accompanying soundtrack. The video shows Kid Koala at work on both the illustrations for the book and in his very fun-looking home studio. He is due to set up shop at MASS MoCA this weekend, where he’ll be in residency working on a live performance version of the project, happening in two shows next Saturday. “The live show he is creating around it involves the entire audience wearing headphones and viewing the show while reclining on the floor on specially designed inflatable backrests,” the announcement says. Quite.
“The sprawling, eleven-member ensemble sounds surprisingly precise on its very good recorded debut, At the Kingmaker’s Ball. But in concert, this Berkshire-born Gypsy-punk juggernaut is delightfully imprecise. Its sound is informed by Eastern European folk music, suffused with the energy of punk rock, and tinted with a Dixieland inflection. The music is often delivered at full volume, and even the waltzes come at breakneck speed. It is getaway music for horse-drawn, peddler caravan. Call it borschtcore.”
I profiled the band (re-live the memories here) when they played Pittsfield’s Mission Bar and Tapas in early 2009. They were already arguably too big for the venue in terms of fan interest and stature, and inarguably too big in terms of their actual gear—they couldn’t fit their vintage pump-organ through the doors so they had to do without. A year-and-a-half later, they’ve had their first national headlining tour, played the main stage of the Newport Folk Festival, and added a new member. So Mission was definitely out this time around—thus the unconventional venue. (In between these gigs they also played the first Word X Word Festival, performing in a lineup including poet Taylor Mali at Barrington Stage Company’s Stage 2 amid the set for the hit show Freud’s Last Session.)
For whatever reason, both that original profile and this latest review seemed to come out very well, AFAICT. I’d love to hear your thoughts; just click “Comments and Reactions” below.
"The Low Anthem doesn’t present itself as ambassador from another age with the literal-minded verisimilitude of, for instance, The Band—but it has a way of transporting the listener to a place that is neither here nor there, neither now nor then. Rotating among instruments that looked like they might have been played at Lincoln’s funeral, the four musicians captivatingly channeled the sense of sepia-toned-yet-Millennial hope and desperation that is so well voiced on excellent 2008 album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin..
The result was a fully enveloping sound, acoustic yet somehow cosmic, the sort of stuff Sun Ra might have been into if his father was Hobart Smith and he grew up in Appalachia.”
"Phish’s current alchemy of well-practiced stagecraft and a few dollops of in-the-moment openness adds up to a show that is a unique composition. This one had bombastic rock gestures that filled every corner of the place, alongside subtle touches that caused their own waves of excitement. And with only one song repeated from the similarly showy performance the day before, it provided yet another fresh experience, fit to be collected in fans’ memories like precious baseball cards."
"When Phish takes the stage at this relatively small venue on Saturday and again Sunday, it does so not as a subversive cult band on the rise but as a group of elder statesmen whose list of key achievements on its eventual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame display is, for better or worse, already written...
Smaller venues, an autumnal chill in the air, fall tour in the Northeast—in some ways, it can’t help but feel nostalgic. And indeed, while the band released a new album upon its comeback last year and has worked a handful of even newer songs into the live rotation in 2010, the bulk of the shows are taken up by relatively straightforward versions of the old musical warhorses of yesteryear.”
"It would be easy to say the elements of the orchestrion itself were a pleasure to watch, many of them stacked up in a junkyard jumble at the rear of the stage in a piece of mad hatter sculpture that simultaneously recalled the Grateful Dead’s mid-1970’s "wall of sound," a Fritz Lang futuristic fantasy, and a steampunk bachelor’s hidden attic opus."
"Vampire Weekend’s lyrics are stocked with careful, 21st century details rich in consumerist signifiers (‘the colors of Benetton,’ Tom’s of Maine, S. Pellegrino) and self-conscious multiculturalism (‘You spilled kefir on your keffiyeh.’) It’s up to the listener to gauge the ironic distance: are we a bunch of white people feeling validated because we get the references, or snidely judging the people who feel validated because they get the references, or is there another layer of meta-irony to iron out before we agree on the level at which we are appreciating this experience?
None of this subtext felt present during an evening of sophisticated pop played for a very appreciative, generally college-aged audience. You’d have to be a real grump to deny the obvious: Vampire Weekend just plain killed it.”
Above photo of Ezra Koenig performing at Mountain Park by David Barnum
ARTICLE: "Vampire Weekend: Kaleidoscope of influences create a musical identity"
I was pleased to have the chance to speak with Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend for this feature, which comes in advance of the band’s Monday show in Holyoke at the new outdoor venue Mountain Park (which has already hosted The Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, and MGMT in this, its inaugural summer). The piece can be found in today’s Berkshire Eagle.
“Vampire Weekend’s lyrical focus almost defiantly obsesses over a very particular, narrowly scoped, upper class perspective: a world of Cape Cod weekends, women from Harvard, diplomat’s children and a nonchalantly effusive multiculturalism that reflects the self-consciously, self-congratulatorily liberal perspective presumably found in places like, well, Columbia University.
The lyrics are sometimes frustratingly oblique, but laced with a dizzying mishmash of cultural signifiers, at least some of which are prone to send any given listener straight to Wikipedia for elucidation. “Horchata,” a song about a beachside vacation, manages to have verbal fun by rhyming the titular word (a drink popular in Spain, Mexico and Latin America) with balaclava, arancianta and Masada.
The opening lines of “California English” are delivered by vocalist Ezra Koenig in an impossibly elastic cadence, so bouncily rhythmic and divorced from syllabic convention that it sounds like the sort of worldless chant you’d find in some forms of African music. (For a pop example, see the “Mama say, mama sa…” refrain in Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’”)”
ARTICLE: "Trio sails in creaky ships" (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
In today’s Berkshire Eagle, I reviewed Crosby, Stills and Nash’s show this week at Tanglewood—here’s the piece.
"Stephen Stills seemed the most at home, particularly when wandering away from the band for one of his many solos on electric guitar. Graham Nash seemed vaguely cranky, and David Crosby, his hair blowing from an onstage fan, maintained his placid, beatific expression whether watching his bandmates sing the verses of “Southern Cross” or digging into the lead vocals for his own “Almost Cut My Hair,” a minor classic from the band’s great Deja Vu album.”
The second Word x Word Festival—an interesting affair celebrating the word, as written spoken and sung—kicked off Sunday night (well, actually at a rooftop party on Saturday) with a triple bill featuring Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, Derrick Brown and Mike & Ruthy. Poet Brown entranced with a great set. Last year, the opening show featured The Low Anthem and Taylor Mali.
"The way Brown nimbly brought the audience along for an essentially dark but eventually life-affirming ride was, in its way, joyous. His one-man-show easily filled the space of the theatre, and succeeded consistently. It lived up to festival founder Jim Benson’s introduction: ‘poetry as rock and roll.’"