Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Surpassed Expectations

"Everything is moving so fast, I am unlimited." Those lyrics from Great Lake Swimmers really sum up how I'm feeling these days. My involvement in the music community is growing by leaps and bounds till I'm not at all sure where it's going, but I'll hang on for the ride.

The more I write, the more time I want to devote to writing. It's a self-perpetuating machine. So I want to use this website to experiment a little and just jot down random notes and organize my thoughts a little for more formal writing.

I wanted to review a couple of surprising shows I saw a couple of weeks ago, but never had the time to write a formal review, so I'll put up some notes:

I knew the J. Tillman concert would be beautiful, but I wasn't prepared for just how beautiful and powerful it actually was. Beginning with the first song, the difference between his recorded material and his live performance was awe-inspiring. I had picked up Vacilando Territory Blues a couple of weeks ago to familiarize myself with his music and was taken in by the lovely compositions, his sweet, but steady voice, reminiscent of Sam Beam, and the occasionally sweeping orchestrations.

Appearing with a new band incarnation on August 20, 2009 at The Echo, he has moved away from strictly folk songs toward rock, and it's a nice move. Consequently the set was far livelier and more powerful than I had expected and to see Tillman thrashing about, banging on the tambourine, showed just how passionately he feels this music. Singing material from his forthcoming album, he and his band delivered a rousing program of unfamiliar but immediately engaging songs. With the blending of harmony vocals, beautiful instrumentation, and atmospheric sound effects it was a set of unforgettably haunting melody and sublime mental images.

I look forward to the new CD, Year In the Kingdom, due out on the 8th. It smells like a breakthrough album. Evan Way, who opened, in a bass-less version of The Parson Red Heads, opined that the new CD was a major step forward for the artist, who is also his friend. Having seen J. Tillman as drummer with Fleet Foxes, it was astonishing to see him step out and take the lead in a creative, intelligent and artistically forceful band.

It was also fun to see The Parson Red Heads as an acoustic outfit who primed the crowd nicely, slowly building us up for the headliner. Singing songs from their usual catalog, but with a gentle, delicate edge that lent a special poignancy to the compositions, I found it especially engaging.

August 26, 2009 found me at Spaceland to see Fruit Bats for the third time. I became a fan of this band a few years ago when I stumbled across a video for the song "Lives of Crime" that was so funny and oddly touching I couldn't stop watching it. I was also attracted to the quirky melody that seemed to exist in its own reality, but having backed into music the way I did, when I asked someone about Fruit Bats, and they said they sounded like The Shins, I said, "The who?"

Yes, I hadn't heard of The Shins. It took about 6 seconds of listening to Chutes Too Narrow to become a die-hard fan. I often find the sub-genre first, and then move up to the genre itself. So when Fruit Bats' Eric Johnson was grabbed by The Shins to join them as a member of their touring band, it seemed pre-ordained.

On April 12, 2006, Fruit Bats played a terrific show at The Troubadour and I was impressed by the clever, witty songs and the professionalism of the band and I looked forward to future releases and performances by them. Then I read Eric was joining The Shins on their Wincing the Night Away tour. Sure enough, when I saw The Shins at The Orpheum on April 15, 2007, there was Eric Johnson on stage and it was a perfect match of sensibilities.

I feared it might be the end of Fruit Bats, but earlier this year , Eric relocated to L.A. and the band played The Echo in February, nearly three years since their last local show. He also showed up playing with Vetiver at their show at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts in April, so he's an asset to many bands.

Now a new CD is out and this August date was in support of it. It was great to hear Eric as lead singer again and the new material is more folky than before, but musically, it feels like a natural progression. Surrounded by a really tight band it was a solid set by a band that really knows what it's doing.

The Ruminant Band is the new CD and the songs sounded even better live. Not generally paying attention to such things, I was surprised when I opened The Rolling Stone yesterday and saw it is the number one on their Top Ten College Radio Albums list. Wow, this could be the breakthrough for this band, too.


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