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Bottomless Pit at the Middle East Upstairs

One of my biggest concert-going regrets is passing up a Silkworm concert in Chicago back in November of 2004, less than a year before drummer Michael Dahlquist’s death from vehicular manslaughter the following July. While that tragedy could not have been anticipated, my fondness for Silkworm’s tremendously consistent catalog has grown by leaps and bounds since then, amplifying the ache of a missed opportunity. I’d also passed on my first chance to see Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett’s new group, Bottomless Pit, when I brushed off their opening performance for Magnolia Electric Company until the show had sold out. Had I known that their debut LP, Hammer of the Gods, would be such a revelation, I would’ve bought tickets long in advance. This time I took no chances; those tickets had been sitting above my laptop for months.

Former Codeine drummer and Come guitarist Chris Brokaw opened the show with a mix of acoustic and electric songs. I always enjoyed his vocal contributions to the latter outfit, especially “Shoot Me First” from Near Life Experience and “Recidivist” from Gently Down the Stream, so my attention was understandably piqued by a few of his more straightforward songs. Considering how frequently he’s played in town, especially at the nearby P.A.’s Lounge, I don’t have an excuse for waiting this long to see him perform. Next time I’ll yell out for one of those Come songs and pick up that limited vinyl pressing of his 2005 album Incredible Love.

My trip to the ATM down the block caused me to miss Brokaw sitting in with his fellow New Year members the Kadane Brothers, but the rest of the duo’s set was impressive enough without him. Despite owning Bedhead’s Transaction de Novo and having seen The New Year (with Silkworm/Bottomless Pit guitarist Andy Cohen) play a show with Crooked Fingers in Champaign, their music has never quite clicked, but I think this show finally won me over to their brand of melancholic minimalism. I credit a chair at the back of the Middle East Upstairs for allowing me to appreciate their subtle melodies and songwriting craft. I’m now planning on grabbing The New Year’s self-titled third LP when it’s released this fall.

During the Kadane Brothers’ final song, the members of Bottomless Pit (photos here) gradually ambled on stage and joined the melody of that song before seamlessly segueing to the excellent “Leave the Light On” as the Kadanes left the stage. Even without piano punctuation from its recorded version, “Leave the Light On” was a powerful opener, swelling with Midgett’s baritone guitar leads and Cohen’s nervous Telecaster twitches. Cohen’s “Dogtag” followed with its emotional “We saw our connection there / On the way down” chorus. The dynamic between Midgett and Cohen came to the forefront during the material from their new Congress EP. While each member usually takes the melodic leads on their own songs, Midgett’s exquisite “Red Pen” peaked with a dueling solo and Cohen’s “Fish Eyes” features similar interplay between the high-end of Midgett’s baritone guitar and Cohen’s Telecaster.

Even with a one-song encore, Bottomless Pit’s set seemed all too short. I needed more moments like Cohen’s raised voice on “Greenery,” Midgett’s enthusiastic delivery of “Sometimes you gotta take control” in “Reposession,” and Cohen’s pick-less guitar in “Dead Man’s Blues.” The consolation prize for such tantalizing economy was a copy of the Congress EP, which certainly merits its own post.

A Week's Worth of Shows

Considering that I’d only attended one show this calendar year prior to May—Junius at Great Scott back in March—seeing four shows in eight days was a minor miracle. I would’ve seen five if I’d ponied up for Wye Oak at Great Scott, but after buying tickets for Polvo in June and Bottomless Pit in July, I felt like a night watching the San Jose Sharks’ hapless playoff plight might be a welcome respite for my wallet.

Stars of the Lid and Christopher Willits performed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, kicking off my week of concert-going. Aside from the middle-aged woman who sat next to me and chided me for taking non-flash photos of Willits’ set, it’s hard to imagine a better setting for both acts. I was unfamiliar with Christopher Willits’ work, but his heavily processed guitar work reminded me of the melodic micro-glitch of Accelera Deck’s Pop Polling. These detailed soundscapes coincided perfectly with Willits’ projected videos, particularly one focusing on weeds coming out of sidewalk cracks. The videos from his 2006 album Surf Boundaries emphasize a push into the processed shoegaze of Guitar’s Sunkissed and M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts, but Willits didn’t utilize anything beyond his guitar and laptop for this set.

Stars of the Lid came out with three string players and accompanying video projections from Luke Savisky. Much like their recorded material, it’s hard for me to relate what made Stars of the Lid’s live performance so awe-inspiring. On record, I’m astonished by how much emotional resonance they can create with such a reserved sonic footprint, but live this footprint was expanded significantly by the string trio, who interacted with and often surpassed the subtle drones created by Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride. Willits joined them for the set closer, which may or may not have been “Even If You’re Never Awake (Deuxieme),” and although his contributions were remarkably subtle, the song still swelled to a previously unforeseen breaking point. The video projection raced at a breakneck pace to mirror this fever pitch, but soon everything returned to calm. Stars of the Lid certainly deserved an encore, but clapping furiously for one seemed downright strange after the nature of their set. The band caved, playing my personal favorite from last year’s And Their Refinement of the Decline, “Tippy’s Demise,” a song tailor-made for their live line-up. I’m admittedly curious about how Stars of the Lid would have sounded at the Staerkel Planetarium back in Champaign, IL, but this performance gave little reason for jealousy.

The following Tuesday I caught Foals and The Ruby Suns at the Middle East Downstairs, narrowly missing local opener Pray for Polanski’s set. I hadn’t heard anything about The Ruby Suns, but watching them set up made me nervous; three people manning a stage full of instruments, including the ever-foreboding flute. The end result was a sunnier, less interesting version of the Berg Sans Nipple’s rhythmic pop. Whereas the Berg Sans Nipple derives from a Nebraska/France axis, the Ruby Suns claim both New Zealand and California as home. Despite all of the instrument-switching, most songs ended up sounding like they were comprised of vocals, a bass line, a heavily flanged keyboard or guitar part, and either faux-tribal drumming or electronic club beats. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Pitchfork loves this stuff, since it seems close enough to Animal Collective to merit their affections, but I don’t anticipate checking out their recorded material for comparison’s sake.

I had high hopes for Foals’ set after seeing a few live clips on YouTube and they did not disappoint. Playing most of their Sub Pop debut Antidotes (minus album closer and personal favorite “Tron”) and their pre-album singles “Hummer” and “Mathletics,” Foals did an excellent job mixing up the arrangements of these songs by adding extended intros and making up for missing production magic with more brute force. Prominently coifed singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis had considerably more stage presence than anticipated, although some stage chatter veered toward Boston-oriented pandering. While I didn’t come away from the performance finally grasping why they’re routinely called a math-rock band—tricky high-end fretwork may be a prominent signifier, but there’s simply no math involved in their 4/4 signatures—it’s hard to deny that they’re certainly good at what they actually do: cosmopolitan dance-punk.

Local indie pop/rock group You Can Be a Wesley opened up The Acorn’s first Boston show the following night at Great Scott. I hadn’t heard of the band prior to seeing the bill, but their set showed promise, if not a fully realized whole. After the fashionably empty set from the Ruby Suns the night before, I was glad to hear something genuine. Vocalist Saara reminded Acorn bassist/guitarist Jeff DeButte of Joanna Newsom, a comparison I can only assume is accurate given my steadfast avoidance of that harpsichord-wielding singer/songwriter. The music itself would benefit from a bit of road-testing, since many of the songs were flush with extraneous parts and could use some paring down, but the vocal melodies were strong. Joanna Newsom fronting a Chapel Hill indie-pop band, maybe? Worth keeping an eye out.

I’d been looking forward to seeing The Acorn since I first heard that a Boston date was in the works for their spring tour. Glory Hope Mountain was one of last year’s best surprises and has remained close to my listening pile since its release. Unfortunately, The Acorn were out of the 2LP pressing of the album, so I’ll have to suck it up and order the vinyl from Paper Bag. As for their performance, the six members did an excellent job of fleshing out the details of their recorded work while bringing more “rock” elements to fundamentally folk songs. The highlight was “Flood Pt. 1,” as its choral exuberance and pounding rhythms were a perfect fit for the end of their main set. The up-tempo rock of “Spring Thaw” from their Tin Fist EP (which I got on my trip up to Montreal last winter) closed out the evening, just before the band were treated to tour-ending shots from the Great Scott. Unless you live in the Ottawa area, you’ll probably have to wait a while before the Acorn makes it to your town, but in the meantime heed my latest recommendation to check out Glory Hope Mountain.

The Night Marchers and the Dynamiters closed out my week of shows at the Middle East Upstairs. Montreal aggro-punks CPC Gangbangs were supposed to be on the bill, but they apparently had some problems getting into the country (I’d imagine there are very strict tariffs on importing gangbangs), so The Dynamiters were moved up the bill. I hadn’t realized that they featured members of the Selby Tigers, a band I was not particularly impressed by when they opened up for Sean Na Na in Chicago, but thankfully those members have found a better gig. The Dynamiters slightly recalled the more straightforward rock moments of John Reis’s previous work in Rocket from the Crypt, but their alternating vocal turns and garage rock riffs kept me from lingering on that comparison. Their relatively short set left me wanting more, particularly after a set close that ended after less than a minute.

I’ve listened to The Night Marchers’ debut LP See You in Magic a few times, but so far it hasn’t clicked on the level of past Reis efforts like Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes, or Drive Like Jehu. Yet having seen RFTC and Hot Snakes, I figured that Speedo’s status as a consummate showman would surpass any of the weaker material, an assumption that didn’t quite come to fruition. “In Dead Sleep (I Snore Zzzz),” “Bad Bloods,” and “Jump in the Fire” throttled as well as Reis’s past bands, but passing on album highlight “I Keep Holding On” in favor of some of the 1950s-flavored mid-tempo numbers was downright curious. Reis’s stage presence was in classic form, but there just isn’t enough greatness on See You in Magic to stretch over a headliner’s set. Unless you’re a diehard Reis devotee, you may want to wait until the band releases a follow-up to help expand their set list.

Recent Concert Photos

Here are my photos for the four recent shows I attended. Reviews of these shows will be up shortly.

Stars of the Lid at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, May 1, 2008.

Foals at the Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA, May 6, 2008.

The Acorn at Great Scott, Allston, MA, May 7, 2008.

The Night Marchers at the Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, MA, May 8, 2008.

Download Festival

I hadn’t even heard of the Download Festival until this week, but shortly after seeing a commercial I found out how to get complimentary tickets. Three and a half bucks in Ticketmaster charges to see a bill of former indie bands I won’t pay full price to see anymore? Sure, I’ll suffer through an all-day outdoor/indoor festival.

Since the festival’s web site didn’t list set times for the bands, we got there early. Oops. Door prizes? Well, we got free corporate schwag from the festival’s numerous sponsors, but we also had to see an unlisted local opener (the Adam Ezra Band) who played jam band lite, a “real” jam band (Apollo Sunshine), and a hair metal revival act (Bang Camaro). I can just imagine the festival executives shaking their heads over the prospect of an outdoor festival without a reasonable draw for local stoners before having an epiphany. “Shit, we could book those bands early on! We don’t even need big names! We can still meet our drum circle quota!” Phew. As for the hair metal revival, I’d be fine with its existence only if the Jersey shoreline split off and became a sovereign nation under the despotic control of the Jon Bon Jovi / Bret Michaels administration.

Just before Band of Horses started playing, I heard a familiar racket coming from the Volkswagen “garage rock” display, in which they had set up amps, guitars, and drums for the kids to play. Prior to this point, it had been the kind of aimless jamming that I’d expect from this scenario, but this time it was some local band playing their youthful attempt at Les Savy Fav worship. It’s hard to dismiss the value of context for this situation—if I’d heard this band at the Middle East, it would be par for the course, but after seeing Bang Camaro’s wretched party metal, it threw me for a loop. Thanks kids.

Band of Horses played a solid mix of songs from their forthcoming album Cease to Begin and last year’s Everything All the Time. While none of the new songs hit quite as well as “The Funeral,” the new tracks seemed more fleshed-out instrumentally than their older counterparts, incorporating piano and pedal steel effectively. Wolf Parade followed with an even greater prevalence of new material, returning to only “I’ll Believe in Anything” and “Shine a Light” from Apologies to the Queen Mary. I tend to only listen to three or four Wolf Parade songs before getting bored or sick of ’em, so having two of their five new songs qualify as great is essentially on par from the last record. Their set seemed short (play “Fancy Claps,” goddammit), but the stage banter was humorous enough to excuse their early exit.

The rest of the show was in the concert shell, so we took our seats and waited for Neko Case to start. I’ve tried getting into the New Pornographers and simply found them too peppy for my liking, but Neko’s voice carried well and Kelly Hogan (a guest vocalist on a Silkworm record or two) did some excellent back-up vocals. I enjoyed her songs enough, but can’t remember a single one of them.

I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play in City Hall Plaza last summer, so this setting was hardly alien for a band I first saw open up for three other bands at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Karen O came out in something that looked like a metallic owl costume, then stripped down to her leopard print leotard and pranced around the stage. Yep. Just another day for her. Their set list again ignored “Y-Control” from Fever to Tell and seemed to go a little long, especially with a false start of “Maps” in its standard electric version before switching over to an acoustic take, but on the whole it brought some energy back after Neko Case’s set. They need some songs to bridge the gap between “Maps” and the rest of their set, but that’s what third albums are for, right?

I knew that I’d heard Guster, since they were once the subject of a “guess this song” question at team trivia (we were not successful), but I couldn’t remember what they sounded like. The people in front of us had no idea either, so we exchanged guesses like “light rock for dudes who like Dave Matthews Band” and “Wilco lite” (followed by “Isn’t that Wilco lite lite now?”) before their set started. As it turned out, we were fairly accurate, as Guster’s overwhelmingly bland adult-oriented rock blared out into the amphitheater. The polarization of the crowd was humorous enough—while the vaguely indie people around us left to smoke, nearly everyone else stood up and hugged their girlfriend, bro, or both. Whether that’s a conditioned response to bongos is unclear, but I zoned out until the headliners.

I’d only seen Modest Mouse once before, back in 2000 with a then-unknown Shins started off the bill, but they might as well have been separate bands except for Isaac Brock’s drunken ramblings. I don’t think the band played anything prior to Good News for People Who Like Bad News, with the majority of their set coming from their newest record. I was intrigued to see how Johnny Marr and Brock would mesh as guitarists, but their respective styles didn’t truly spar until the set’s elongated closer, “Spitting Venom.” Marr’s smooth leads worked well against Brock’s raw tones as they stretched the end of the overwhelming highlight of We Were Dead… longer and longer. They waited a few minutes before heading out for the obligatory encore, after which point I bolted to the parking lot to avoid becoming a permanent residence.

I can’t complain too much about spending less than four bucks to see the five worthwhile bands on the bill, but I imagine that I’ll avoid outdoor shows that aren’t sponsored by sunscreen companies for the rest of the summer.

The Twilight Sad and A Northern Chorus Live

I caught this show courtesy of Bradley’s Almanac, a far more user-friendly website than this one (lists upcoming Boston shows, posts audio bootlegs of shows, and gives away tickets and CDs). Aereogramme was initially the headliner for the show, which piqued my interest, so I checked out the other two bands to see how early I’d like to go. But by the time the ticket giveaway started, Aereogramme’s visa problem had forced them to delay their visit to Boston until the end of April. I liked what I had heard of A Northern Chorus and The Twilight Sad, so I was glad to move the show from game-time decision to no-risk night out with my random drawing.

I find it hard to think of adjectives that aren’t variations of “nice” or “pleasant” for A Northern Chorus’s opening set, which is unfortunate because I remembered enjoying every song they played. The Canadian six piece coupled violin and cello with frequently effects-laden guitars, but most of the set limited the crescendos in favor of tasteful introspective indie rock, reminding me of a more up-tempo incarnation of early Very Secretary. I hesitate on using “nice” or “pleasant” since those are effectively synonyms for “bland” or “inoffensive,” but ANC’s songs are well crafted enough to hold my attention. Can’t say I’ll go out of my way to see them headline a show, but I’ll gladly watch them open for a band I like, perhaps even when they open for Aereogramme’s make-up performance at the end of April.

Immediately after their set I chatted with Brad of Bradley’s Almanac, who was successful in determining my identity through a lone tidbit; “Guy with Pentax SLR” is apparently specific enough. I somehow managed to get on the topic of Juno—it doesn’t take much—and learned that he’s a fan, so any affections I have for his site should be doubled now. Ironically, talking to Brad distracted me from my lone between-set task of picking up a free Northern Chorus CD from the merch table. Oops.

The Twilight Sad had an air of future stardom, a claim I rarely make and a status I have almost no interest in predicting. (This show was a week before Pitchfork ranked them in the Best New Music category.) I credit the stage presence and vocals of James Graham for much of this air, since his vague disinterest and occasional menace were surprisingly captivating and his vocals ring out clear, even when yelled a bit. The band has a few great songs already—“And She Would Darken the Memory” and “Walking for Two Hours”—and those came across quite well in the live setting, giving Graham a chance for minor histrionics and secondary percussion duties. It’s hard for me not to think of them as the shoegazer version of Idlewild, which is an admittedly lazy comparison based primarily on the shared Scottish accent, but the Twilight Sad have a similarly anthemic quality. The band needs a second guitarist/keyboard player/accordion player, however, in order to fully replicate the depth of sound on their recordings. They certainly were loud enough, but the bass player’s tone was horrible for most the set and the guitarist wandered through lazy arpeggios during a few songs’ verses. Hell, they may not even need to worry about that, since I have the sense that, in true Idlewild fashion, the aesthetic will soon take a backseat to the songwriting and vocal charisma. I’ll pick up Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters when it’s available on vinyl, but their second record should be pivotal in terms of the band’s development. Keep an eye on them in any case.

I did take some pictures of both bands, although the set for A Northern Chorus turned out considerably better than the set for The Twilight Sad. I tried setting the white balance to the Middle East Upstairs’ lighting conditions, which worked out far better than I expected, but I personally prefer the cast of a certain color from the house lights.

Battles Live at Great Scott

Here are my pictures of Battles. This may be a spoiler.

I haven’t given Battles’ Mirrored an official mention, but the album has quickly made it into the small handful of 2007 records already penciled into my year-end list. If you haven’t seen the video for the single, “Atlas,” do so right away. The song may take a few listens to click—I’ve learned through extensive market research that chipmunk-pitched vocals are, at best, an acquired taste—but I can’t think of any songs from this year that top it. When I saw that Battles were headed to Great Scott in Allston, I almost frothed at the mouth. Given the band’s enthusiastic performance in the video and their reputation as a stellar live act, I gladly pre-ordered my ticket.

It turns out that I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for the band or their new material, as one of my friends sent me a disappointed e-mail the day of informing me that the show had sold out. Great Scott isn’t an enormous venue, so I wasn’t too surprised, but I’ve always been baffled by which Boston shows sell out. Hopefully Battles will come through again when Mirrored is officially out and play a larger venue.

Part of the reason for my pre-order was a prior commitment to playing poker at MIT, a commitment that ended up going longer than I expected. I can’t scoff at winning a poker tournament, but it did prevent me from any of Amoroso’s set and most of Major Stars’ set. What I saw of Major Stars’ performance was excellent, though—incendiary psych-rock jams that did not want to quit. They seem to fit in far more with the aesthetic and audience of P.A.’s Lounge, so hopefully I’ll be able to catch them there over the summer.

Battles’ move to the stage compelled the audience to crush forward, and unfortunately I was just off of the Ian Williams’ corner of the stage, preventing me from taking easy pictures or hearing much of Tyondai Braxton’s vocals. Neither of those aspects limited my enjoyment of their set, however, as they started with the glitching drone into galloping grooves of “TIJ” and never let up. When “Atlas” became recognizable from its loop-heavy opening, the crowd went nuts. Song’s a hit, folks.

Having seen Ian Williams perform with the three-piece incarnation of Don Caballero, I knew of his guitar-playing trickery, but watching him do finger-tapped leads on guitar (then loop them on his EchoPlex) and high-speed keyboard parts at the same time dropped my jaw far more than even that performance. Whereas Don Caballero sounds endlessly complex on record and revels in that aspect live (particularly in the nameless new band Damon Che recruited to replace Williams and Eric Emm), Battles manage to bundle all of their tricky parts into a cohesive whole. John Stanier’s combination of brute force and technical precision is the lynchpin for the band’s success, but there’s no weak link in the band.

Battles avoided almost all crowd banter and only played a one song encore before ending for the night. Some may view this stance as a kind of standoffish rock star pose, but I’d argue against it on the strength of this performance. They did almost everything I’d want out of a performance; played (most of) their best songs, performed with a visible enthusiasm, avoided lulls between songs, took strong studio recordings and reshaped them in the live setting with a new energy, and didn’t play too long. After bumming around so I could purchase the “Atlas” 12″, I drove home completely pleased with their performance.

Slight Tangent Number One: I’m amazed by how many people in Boston have digital SLRs at shows. Between the Isis show, the Do Make Say Think show, and the Battles show, there has been a consistent number of SLRs in the audience, almost all loaded with flash guns and battery packs. It’s been a while since I’ve taken concert photography regularly, but I have to assume that it’s the drop in price for entry-level digital SLRs (I mean, even I have one) which is causing this increase. I’d gotten used to coming to shows late and hanging out in the acoustic sweet spot of the venue, but I guess that trend will be coming to an end if I’d like to put any emphasis on my photography. Crap.

Slight Tangent Number Two: I ran into Mike Fournier after the show and chatted with him a bit. In case I haven’t mentioned this, I’m fairly sure he’s my doppelganger. I had coffee with him a few months ago to talk about the Juno documentary, and at the time he was sending the final proofs for his book on the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime into Continuum. Now the book has been released and is available from Amazon, awaiting both my and your purchase. I genuinely like the concept of the 33 1/3 series, even if some of the choices of albums may not cater to my particular tastes, but this book should be a worthy pick-up for anyone even slightly interested in the band or album. Now all Continuum needs to do is green-light my theoretical tome on Juno’s A Future Lived in Past Tense and we’ll be all set.

Do Make Say Think and the Berg Sans Nipple Live

I’m actually somewhat surprised that Tuesday’s show was the first time I’d seen Do Make Say Think, considering how loaded the upper echelon of my top 40 of the 2000s is with their recent work. I can only remember missing one particular show at the Empty Bottle in Chicago because of the timing, so maybe their touring schedule just isn’t up to snuff. I blame them, really.

I’d heard good things about the Berg Sans Nipple, the lone opener for the tour, so getting to the Middle East almost two hours after doors opened only to find that they hadn’t even started yet was a bit of a relief. Two guys with a ton of equipment played a hodge-podge of dream pop, post-rock, and IDM. Certain aspects of their sound reminded me of the headliners, but for the most part the layered keyboards, looped vocals, and primarily live drums struck an interesting path outside of strict genre boundary lines. I picked up the 2LP of their 2007 release Along the Quai (which contains two bonus songs not included on the CD), which seems more appropriate for background listening given the band’s overall emphasis on aesthetics over songwriting (barring “Mystic Song”), but hey, that’s why I bought it.

Do Make Say Think took the stage, starting with “Outer, Inner & Secret” from Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, and the band’s numerous members slowly filtered into the mix. It’s hard to nail most members down to a particular instrument, but for most songs they had two drummers, a bassist, two guitarist, a violinist, and two horn players, the violinist being the only major surprise. Picking out the specific parts became more difficult as the first song swirled into a nearly cacophonous crescendo. I’ve never really considered DMST as a crescendo-oriented post-rock band, but live the swells of sound became more apparent.

The Middle East downstairs was packed for the show, which unfortunately involved people going absolutely bananas and screaming during every false ending or quiet part. It’s baffling to me that the Isis crowd suffered from far less of this over-exuberance, but the DMST crowd never let up. Quiet break in “Reitschule”? Let’s scream! The show upstairs is enough of a distraction, don’t add to it.

They played material from the last four records, including the vocal track “A With Living” from You, You’re a History in Rust. I’ve been on the fence about the new record, enjoying this song and a few others but never really getting into the record as a whole, and I don’t know if this concert changed anything. Part of me hopes that “A With Living” is the band’s only song with full vocals, since it’s effective enough without being overbearing, but I have a feeling that it may mark a sea change in their approach. The main fear I have about the vocals is that they’ll end up being a progressive version of Broken Social Scene. The highlights, if memory serves, were “Reitschule,” “Fredericia,” “When the Day Chokes the Night,” “The Landlord Is Dead,” and “Horns of a Rabbit.” One of the nice things about seeing such a remarkably consistent band is that I wasn’t worried about the specifics of the set list outside of a few personal favorites. Closing the show with “Horns of a Rabbit” and “The Universe,” their two most direct rockers, was a nice move.

It may be appropriate that I was pleased, rather than blown away with Do Make Say Think’s performance. There was some time between hearing “If I Only…” from their self-titled debut and finally getting their second album, Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead, and even more time before that record hit me fully.

New Camera = New Photog

I really hadn't taken many photographs since moving to Boston, but the death of my Nikon Coolpix 995 on my flight to Seattle in December punctuated that death. After weighing my options in the digital SLR field, I settled on a Pentax K100D, since it felt better in my hands than the competing models from Nikon and Canon and I could get $150 back from Pentax for buying the camera along with a 50-200mm telephoto lens. After some extensive backorder issues* (which have unfortunately not yet been resolved for the telephoto lens), I received my camera on Friday, a day late for the Life and Times show but in time for the Isis show.

Here's a small sampling of Isis pictures, which I had to take from a limited vantage point. I don't own a speedlight for the camera yet, so I ended up piggybacking off of other photographers' flashes for most of these pictures. I would have taken more, but a female photographer decided to stand directly in my line of sight for the second half of the show, and since I didn't have a photo pass and she appeared to be dating one of the security guards at the Middle East, I accepted my fate. I'm hoping to get closer for next week's Do Make Say Think show at the Middle East and the upcoming Battles show at Great Scott. Outside photos will have to wait for somewhat nicer weather.

* I ended up ordering the camera from Adorama, since they had my items listed in stock, good prices, and a nice selection of accessories. After immediately telling me that the camera body was out of stock and on back order, I decided to check the page on Adorama's site and found that it now listed the camera as backordered. Once it came back into stock about four days later, I figured the camera would ship, but nothing happened. I called customer service and they said that everything was in stock and would ship that day or the next. A few more days pass with no notification of a shipment, so I call them up again and find that the lens is now backordered. Oh. If not for the rebate situation ($50 for the camera alone, $50 for the lens alone, $150 for the camera and the lens on the same receipt), I would be less concerned, but a big part of the decision to purchase the lens was this rebate. I'm not sure if Pentax will honor the full rebate, since Adorama didn't charge the lens with the other items, but if the lens doesn't ship by March 27 it won't matter since that's the cut-off date for the rebate. Needless to say I will not order anything from them in the future.

loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies

loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies documents the band’s reunion, starting slightly before the first shows and following the band until the end of the first round of touring. On the surface it seems like it should be a compelling, dramatic documentary, since Charles Thompson is getting a divorced and having a child with his new lady, Joey Santiago is having another kid that he can’t quite support with the Martinis and soundtrack work, Kim Deal is fresh out of rehab and brings Kelley Deal on tour with her, and David Lovering is a struggling magician with an ailing father. Yet these elements just underscore the reason for the reunion—$$$—with the life stories often intruding awkwardly on the film. Here’s a shot of Charles with his girlfriend’s son at the aquarium. Isn’t he a real human being? They’re all “real human beings” (a frequent term from the unilaterally gushing Amazon reviews), but their near steadfast lack of interpersonal conflict on the tour stifles most genuine conversations and conflicts. Kim’s in another bus. Joey will tell the camera about David’s growing valium problem, but won’t tell David. Charles only confronts David when it seems like his problems might derail the tour. Yes, they come off like real human beings to some extent, demystifying whatever enigmatic rock personas might have developed since the group first disbanded, but their actions are always tempered by the ultimate motive: keep the tour going, keep the shows selling out, keep making money.

The live footage is well-shot, but ultimately lacks something in comparison to the 1988 concert included on the self-titled DVD released in 2004. It’s certainly easy to get excited about seeing a band perform songs that you love and didn’t expect to see live—I enjoyed the reunion show I went to at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago—but Charles’ scream doesn’t have the same edge as before, Kim doesn’t seem quite as joyous, Joey relies more on pedals than ingenuity. If you’ve never seen any footage of them, it’ll probably be exciting, but check out the Pixies DVD first. That particular DVD also includes the documentary Gouge, which is essentially a big wet kiss from the bands they influenced, but does not include any shots of Charles Thompson with his shirt off. Choose accordingly.

Isis and Jesu

I missed seeing Isis last May when I opted for paper writing over show going, but there isn’t too much guilt about heading out on a Saturday in March aside from missing a late NCAA game. Jesu (pronounced “yayzu”) managed to get their recent visa problems worked out, so I managed to see two bands that had records in my top 20 of 2006. Zozobra was the other opening act and were alright for a more scream-heavy metal band, but naturally I preferred the closing instrumental song to the rest of their set.

Jesu quickly topped the finest moments of Zozobra’s set with an absolutely crushing rendition of “We All Faulter” from the self-titled record. I cannot stress how loud this was from my vantage point twelve feet away from the big speakers; my scalp was vibrating for almost the entirety of the set and my teeth started to hurt. Most of the sonic details of the songs were relegated to background tracks running off a laptop, but Broadrick and his rhythm section filled in every possible gap underneath the occasional melodic twitch of those feedback loops. His voice sounded excellent live, a soothing, meditative presence amidst the punishing heft. Jesu only played five songs (“Silver,” “Conqueror,” “Friends Are Evil,” and “Transfigure” filled out the set), but since almost all of these reached toward the ten-minute mark, it felt complete. I might have preferred if Broadrick had recruited a second guitarist or keyboard player to replicate the details from the studio rather than opt for the laptop route (cough, M83, cough), but since the end result still strayed heavily from the studio versions, I’ll let it pass.

Isis treads a very fine line in their live performances; their recent songs are based on interlocking parts, which all need to be heard live in order for the songs to take shape, but the band also needs the bulging riffs to carry the necessary weight and energy. I was a bit surprised at how well they accomplished both of these without sounding too much like spot-on re-enactments of the records, a practice I’ve been wary of since seeing a textbook, but somewhat lifeless Pelican performance last summer. It was great seeing who was doing what on the songs and how. Aaron Harris didn’t reveal any major surprises, but his drumming held the songs together during the drifting sections.

The set list seems to be typical for this tour, which is a bit frustrating seeing as it avoided most of my preferred Isis tracks (“Garden of Light,” “So Did We,” “Weight,” “Carry” “Syndic Calls”) in favor of half of the new record, although “Holy Tears,” “In Fiction,” and “Not in Rivers but in Drops” all killed. They did play “Celestial” as an encore, which came as a surprise since I’d heard that the band hadn’t taken kindly to recent requests for the song. I hoped that they might stick around to play “Garden of Light,” which would have been an excellent closer, but no dice.

Beyond the two excellent performances, I was also able to pick up a few of the recent vinyl releases that had either eluded me or been overpriced at Newbury Comics: Jesu’s Silver and the Isis/Aereogramme In the Fishtank collaboration. The former was only $15 (as opposed to $20 plus shipping from Hydrahead’s store) and the latter only $12, so grab them from the shows if possible. Both bands had wide arrays of clothing, but since my t-shirt drawer is reaching critical mass, I decided against further merch pick-ups.