Category Archives: DVD

The Swell Season at Bonnaroo 2008

The Swell Season captured the spirit of Bonnaroo best, of all the great bands I saw (pictures). You can download the show, transformed magically into mp3s, here, or any of 15 other live shows of theirs here.

I expected great things from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, but I also know it’s hard to put a sweet sound out into the great outdoors and manage to maintain intimacy and vibrancy all at once. Their songs did just that, and their humility and joy refreshed us despite the mid-day heat. The two musicians really did fall in love while filming the movie Once and making the music that became not just a soundtrack but also this group The Swell Season. They interacted on stage just how I’d hoped: adoring looks, encouraging cues, an ever-so-slight touch on the shoulder while they worked out what to play next.

If you haven’t bought any of their stuff yet, I would recommend the collector’s edition of the Once soundtrack that also includes a couple of live cuts and a making-of DVD. Perhaps it talks about how they fell in love while filming and touring. And the actual movie DVD is out now, too, if you missed it in theaters. If you saw the movie, you won’t be surprised to know The Swell Season covered two Van Morrison songs, Astral Weeks and Into the Mystic.

Glen was much more of a showman than I expected. He orchestrated the audience without commanding us (see future post on Metallica at Bonnaroo), encouraging us to cut loose with no inhibitions in the spirit of a festival. We were hungry for this sort of communal happiness, and the packed audience ate it up and gave it back to the performers on stage tenfold.

Glen and Markéta were accompanied by Glen’s usual band (since 1990) The Frames. I’ve not been able to get into their records, but this show made me want to keep trying until it takes. The drummer was an incredible mix of charismatic and seriously absorbed, the guitarist and bass player were great role players, and the violinist played so emotively I actually looked for another woman singer when he laid harmonies over and under Markéta’s soaring vocals.

The song I loved best was originally a Frames song, called God Bless Mom. It’s not anywhere online live to show you. I’ll keep a lookout. The video for the original version of the song does nothing to capture the dynamic range with which The Swell Season infused it.

I love The Pixies. I was amped for a Pixies cover by a downloadable concert of The Swell Season at the 9:30 Club offered by NPR here. So when the band left the stage and Glen and Markéta had a confab and then broke into a cover of Levitate Me, I went ballistic. You can’t see me going apeshit about five rows back in  the crowd, which is only due to the camera angle, but it’s still fun to watch them.

The band worked a jam for a while, which was unremarkable in and of itself. But Glen asked poets to come up on the stage, and two people took the invitation. The man who went first looked at the crowd in awe, genuinely taken aback by the sea of people focused on him. Glen nodded in shared astonishment, and with that bolstering moment the dude plowed into a really good poem. I tapped him on the shoulder later and thanked him for letting us all be part of something special, and he seemed to take the compliment as seriously as I meant it.

Final note: They did an encore, Hey Day (written by Mic Christopher), which was racous. What more could ya want?

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Death Cab for Cutie

The new Death Cab for Cutie album Narrow Stairs doesn’t come out until May 13 (tour schedule). You can watch the (fairly uninspiring) video for the album’s first single I Will Posses Your Heart.

But the real news is the Death Cab Daytrotter Session that features downloadable or streamable mp3s of both old and new songs. Set list, including the quite good Cath:

1) A Movie Script Ending from The Photo Album
2) Cath from the forthcoming Narrow Stairs [recommended]
3) Styrofoam Plates from The Photo Album
4) Talking Bird from the forthcoming Narrow Stairs
5) The New Year from Transatlanticism
6) Why You’d Want To Live Here from The Photo Album

Speaking of old Death Cab, here’s a YouTube of Title and Registration (off of Transatlanticism … I never did get in to Plans …), which is cribbed from the DCFC documentary Drive Well, Sleep Carefully. The multi-venue concert DVD is aptly named because I think of Ben Gibbard’s music as driving to the mountains music, particularly The Postal Service.

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The Pixies: loudQUIETloud

It’s cool to shun Pitchfork (and perhaps, too, to defend it against the backlash). It clearly jumped the shark a long time ago, just as Sterogum may have with its most recent upgrade. These conduits of indie info have become more rationalized and less ragamuffin. In the tiny subculture of indie music geekdom that Stella Splice inhabits, identifying what is no longer cool is just as important as identifying what will soon be cool. [Related aside: I really want this t-shirt that says, “I Listen To Bands That Don’t Even Exist Yet.”]

However, Pitchfork.tv is a new branch of Pitchfork that’s useful and cool.

For instance, right now, but only until Monday April 14, they’re offering a stream of The Pixies 2004 reunion tour documentary loudQUIETloud (buy it for cheap). If you missed the stream, you can watch the trailer here. The setlist/soundtrack includes full or partials of the songs Where is My Mind?, Hey, Here Comes Your Man, UMass, Caribou, Gouge Away, Nimrod’s Son, In Heaven, Wave of Mutilation, Something Against You, Bone Machine, Cactus, Vamos, and Monkey Gone to Heaven. The score is done by Daniel Lanois.

I saw a show on the reunion tour. It was everything I’d hoped it could be. Kim couldn’t quit smiling. And the coolest moment was when they ended the show. Instead of ducking backstage to wait an appropriate amount of time for us to demand an encore, they came to the front of the stage and waved heartily and said sincere thank-yous. After a short while, when the audience felt it had shown its thanks for the chance to see The Pixies again, and when the band had thanked us for success in absentia and the chance to make a little money again, they played their encore.

Pitchfork.tv features a bunch of great quality music videos of allstar artists (this means less riffling through the YouTube detritus).

There are non-music-video offerings, as well from Pitchfork.tv, including this badass stuff:

Exclusive Radiohead performance of Bangers & Mash (btw, Radiohead has released additional tour dates)

Some Man Man madness surrounding the making of his album Rabbit Habits

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Kurt Cobain: About A Son

I’ve been geeking out on the soundtrack for Kurt Cobain: About a Son. I can’t speak to the way the songs articulate with the film, because I haven’t seen it, but I have gotten a lot of enjoyment from listening to and thinking about the artists that influenced KC.

Buy the About a Son CD or DVD for reasonable prices. The trailer for the documentary pulls from 25 hours of interview tape done for Michael Azerrad‘s biography Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. (His other book, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, follows Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Fugazi, and Mudhoney.)

Azerrad wrote the liner notes to the soundtrack, which contains no Nirvana songs but instead other artists’: “stuff he studied and worshiped and adored … So if watching About a Son is like seeing the world through Kurt’s eyes, then listening to this music is like hearing it through his ears.” I think fans will appreciate the amount of respect this choice shows for them and their ability to do the mental labor of analyzing influences and processing the clips of KC speaking that are sprinkled among the songs.

In particular, I like the inclusion of the Creedence Clearwater Revival cut Up Around the Bend because KC’s first band was a CCR cover band. CCR was logical, in retrospect, according to Azzerad, because it’s “basic, chunky guitar music, easy to play and yet boundlessly resonant, full of simple, catchy melodies and a singer with a voice that sounded like a tuned scream.” Nicely put. And when the CCR is juxtaposed against Put Some Sugar On It by Half Japanese (download), the Nirvana sound emerges around the margins.

Two songs that Nirvana covered are included: the original David Bowie version of The Man Who Sold the World (download) and Son of a Gun by The Vaselines. If you’re interested, Matt Yglesias talks about Nirvana covers of Vaselines songs here.

Of course Mudhoney (download Touch Me I’m Sick) and Lead Belly (The Bourgeois Blues) are on there. But I was unpleasantly surprised to note the absence of The Pixies and The Breeders, who influenced KC mightily. The Pixies’ lyrical ambiguity (for a discussion of that, see the 33 1/3 book for Doolittle) is what lets Nirvana go national; it made the angst malleable to any set of personal circumstances, to anyone who thought that the world and/or themselves were SNAFU central.

My only other complaint is the incongruous cut by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service; his unmistakable voice concludes the CD with the song Indian Summer, and it sort of leaves me lost. I would have liked to see something more assertive or definitive as a closer. He helped compile the songs on the CD, so this track sort of feels like when a first-time film director gives him or herself a cameo.

But, regardless, the thing is worth buying. And in case you aren’t convinced yet, check the list of artists on the soundtrack I didn’t even talk about: R.E.M., The Melvins, Bad Brains, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Arlo Guthrie, and Iggy Pop. Whew!

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The Polyphonic Spree

The Polyphonic Spree‘s new video Crawl is worth a watch. It’s an intimate look at the band and frontman Tim DeLaughter, who has more charisma in his little finger than [insert lame comparison into this cliché here].

Watching Tim from his Tripping Daisy days (I cannot stress enough that the albums I Am an Elastic Firecracker and Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb are your listening homework if you don’t know them already but are even remotely into the Spree or The Flaming Lips) through The Beginning Stages of… and into worldwide success with the Spree, you can’t help but sense that he consistently does the dangerous work of exposing his soul to the world. That must be necessary to make music so expansive and touching. He always projects genuine elation, but the elation seemingly must be ripped out of (his) pain and (our) apathy to be sustained. I think this makes him one of the hardest working men in music.

At Tripping Daisy and Spree shows, Tim always seems to be standing on the monitors, surrounded by something. Sometimes it’s props like bubbles or plastic bits from a fake snow machine. But sometimes it’s light doing interesting things in concert with the sound, such as a flickering fluorescent bulb or a sunbeam breaking through the dreary clouds during a raucous version of It’s the Sun (both shows in Denton, Texas, at two very different venues).

I find the Spree’s recordings difficult to listen to since I know how bitchin’ they are live. In fact, it’s safe to say I like the Spree best at their margins, out of the studio doin’ their own funky thing. At the end of one show, they allowed the harpist time to perform a full song solo, and it was truly fulfilling in a basic sort of way, like eating bread. The improv moments during shows are some of the most fun bits, like when Tim broke spontaneously into a Tripping Daisy chorus while the rest of the band waited patiently. And their covers are fierce. Grab Nirvana’s Lithium, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB, and Wig in a Box here at Deaf Indie Elephants. You can buy covers of Lithium, Tripping Daisy’s Sonic Bloom, and The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way on the EP Wait. And I always love a little Ride Captain Ride.

Side note about the rockin‘ movie (and soundtrack) Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The Spree’s cover of Wig in a Box appears on a benefit album of the same name, along with other covers (by Bob Mould, The Breeders, Frank Black, Sleater-Kinney, Spoon, Ben Folds, and voice by Stephen Colbert long before I knew who he was) of Hedwig songs such as Rufus Wainwright’s pleasant rendition of The Origin of Love.

Tim does an interview with You Ain’t No Picasso, where he talks about his life philosophy and also a subject dear to my heart, albums: “I love making albums. We are in a world of singles and more people are interested in picking little jewels off the record. But for me as an artist, to have my creative worth and feel worthy, it’s got to be more of a concept. It’s got to work all together as one unit in one listen.” And for me as a listener, I can’t grow love for artists or their bodies of work via singles or mp3s on shuffle. Only albums will do.

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Levon Helm

I’ve been enjoying Levon Helm’s grammy-nominated disc Dirt Farmer and eyeing his book This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm & the Story of the Band on my nightstand. I’m not going to write a Levon bio, so if you need, catch up here.

Listen to a bit of Dirt Farmer here, and find yourself at home no matter your musical tastes. It’s folk music, but the reason that music resonates with us is we’re all just folks. So when you tire of indie rock navel gazing, let Levon’s harmonies with his daughter Amy satisfy a craving you didn’t even know you had.

You can listen to Levon perform four songs on NPR’s World Cafe. He is touring the album, but mostly in the form of Midnight Rambles, which are jam sessions open to the public at his Woodstock, NY, home/studio/barn. He’s been holding these shows for a long time, and often all-star guests pop in unannounced. Very cool. Plus, isn’t it sweet to think of him always and forever playing at Woodstock?

Dirt Farmer makes judicious use of the drums, including 86ing them entirely if the song can stand alone. I think of Levon as a drummer first (take a lesson from him here) and a singer second, but I don’t know why that would be since he sings lead on The Weight, one of the best songs of all time, and lots of other The Band songs. Regardless, I should take my new-found focus on his vocals and re-watch The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s documentary of The Band’s final rock-out.

Oh yeah, and if you weren’t convinced of Levon’s multi-faceted coolness yet, check out his memorable acting performance in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (pic of him in character). A friend swears that when Levon’s character is dishing some soup out of a pot he’s situated toward pot, lid, and spoons as if about to play on his drum set with drumsticks. Wink, wink, from director Tommy Lee Jones if it’s true.

UPDATE 1.24.07: Aquarium Drunkard posted on Levon today, offering two downloads; one of them is a Steve Earle cover.

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Into the Wild and Once

I hadn’t watched VH1 in a very long time. But flipping through the channels, I landed on a very happy duo of songs.

First was Eddie Vedder on a bar stool singing Guaranteed from the Into the Wild soundtrack, a disc that also serves as Eddie’s solo debut. Incredible book, movie, and soundtrack trifecta. There’s also a great Iconoclast episode on Sundance Channel with movie director Sean Penn and author Jon Krakauer talking about the story and the guy it is about. And Charlie Rose interviews friends Penn and Vedder for an hour and also shows the trailer. It’s incredible to watch these adult men bond over a story that distills down the question of what it is to become a man.

I was miffed that best-of-2007 lists did not include the soundtrack. Just because the songs are short? What’s up?

Regardless, the demos for the soundtrack’s songs can be downloaded, along with much other Pearl Jam flotsam, jetsam, and b-sides here. Definitely worth a visit. Eddie Vedder is a lot of things to a lot of people, but his body of work has grown up with us, and somehow we’d like to live up to that. Not to read too much into the easy rhyme, but as the band Local H asked, “If I were Eddie Vedder, would you like me any better?”

Someone out there knew that only a very special song should follow Guaranteed. And, lo, one did. It was Falling Slowly from the Once soundtrack. Follow along at home here. The movie was tremendous, and the editing on this video does it justice. Lovely.

You can catch much more Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Markéta Irglová (the movie’s stars and musicians) around the web. I prefer the soundtrack to Once just a tinsey bit more, but they also toured the U.S. as The Swell Season and released a disc. NPR offers a concert that captures their pure musicianship. The hour-and-a-half show includes all the songs they’ve recorded plus three covers, and I can’t really imagine three better artists to choose: The Pixies, Van Morrison, and Dylan. The Dylan song is You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and appears on the I’m Not There soundtrack.

If you haven’t bought any of their stuff yet, I would recommend the collector’s edition of the Once soundtrack that also includes a couple of live cuts and a making-of DVD. Perhaps it talks about how they fell in love while filming and touring. And the actual movie DVD is out now, too, if you missed it in theaters.

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