July 27, 2009

You Know That One Band We Really Like, Johnny Foreigner?

Johnny Foreigner will headline a tour of the UK in October to celebrate the release of their sophomore full-length Grace And The Bigger Picture, an album that we expect will be our favorite of the year (although it already has stiff competition in the form of Projekt A-ko's absurdly perfect Yoyodyne). Grace And The Bigger Picture will be released 26 October in the UK on Best Before Records. It is preceded 12 October by a second single from the set, "Criminals," whose tiny cover art you can see here. The first single, "Feels Like Summer," was released to the Internet for free last month.

July 26, 2009

Remarks: Varsity Drag, Grownup Noise, Winterpills

[Our exponentially increased work and parenting responsibilities have made it so we can no longer adhere to the rigid format we actually really, really like that we've developed for album and show reviews over the years. And so we are creating a new quasi-category for items we are simply titling Remarks. -- Ed.]

Friday night's wholly satisfying Varsity Drag show at the Middle East Up held some surprises. Not the least of which was the supporting act Grownup Noise, a bunch of locals we'd never heard of who were launching or celebrating the pending launch of a national tour. The band blends the voice of Richard Buckner, the cello work from Built To Spill and indie hooks filtered through a cracking pop sense, which for some reason made us think of Paul Simon. The fronter looked to us like former Junkmedia scribe Jonathan Donaldson, but now that we think about it we don't think we've ever seen Mr. Donaldson. Anyway, we were very impressed with Grownup Noise -- right up until they bafflingly (although ably) covered House Of Pain's "Jump Around." This ruffled our feathers a fair amount, and caused us to turn to compatriot Rock P. and remark "well, this certainly took a turn." Thankfully, Grownup Noise did two more numbers, as we'd hate to have our final thoughts on their excellent performance totally colored by the shlocky cover.

Varsity Drag stepped up and delivered a hot show as well, its first as top-liner on any of the stages at Cambridge's venerable Middle East. We've seen the trio numerous times, but fronter Ben Deily (you know, he was in that band...) and cohort continue to have aces up their six sleeves. This night it was an electrifying, slightly stripped down cover of The Cure's triumphant guitar anthem "Push," a highlight of the damn-near-perfect 1985 long player The Head On The Door. The already-lean Varsity Drag didn't have enough hands to recreate the full instrumental bombast of the track, but the trio gave "Push" a rough edge that made a keen match for the song's desperate tone. The Drag are prepping a long-awaited second set of new material, and we can't help but get the sense that Friday's performance put a lot of wind in their sails. Varsity Drag were celebrating the release of a live set Rock N' Roll Is Such A Hassle -- Live In Europe, which is out now on Boss Tunage in the UK and which domestic fans can purchase digitally right here. A lot of bands have taken on The Cure's "Push" over the years; our favorite might be this rendition by the late, great Garden Variety.

Garden Variety -- "Push" -- Step On A Crack Volume 2 comp (Go-Kart Records)
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buy Garden Variety records from MusicStack.com right here
buy Garden Variety music from EMusic right here

Northampton, Mass.'s Winterpills held the second slot, the first we witnessed upon making the scene. The band's self-titled debut from 2005 holds several songs that we enjoy, but we've never been fully into the band's lighter, folksier fare. Friday's performance didn't change that, but we were pleased to hear the quintet -- which struggled with a recalcitrant keyboard and ended up re-working its set -- play the up-tempo strummer "Laughing." Our hopes of hearing "Threshing Machine" were not met, but regardless Winterpills are charming on stage and we still enjoy their peppier stuff. -- Jay Breitling

July 22, 2009

Review: Varsity Drag | Rock and Roll Is Such A Hassle: Live in Europe

This week’s Varsity Drag set at the Middle East seems to be a pivot point for the band’s leader Ben Deily. While Friday is the record release party for Rock and Roll Is Such A Hassle - Live in Europe (Boss Tuneage), the new set was recorded by an earlier lineup of the band. The current lineup -- including Lisa (Mrs.) Deily on bass and (bass player for former 90s-era Deily band Pods) Josh Pickering on drums -- is preparing to hit the studio to record a full-length album for release in the fall (this writer, as they say, has heard a few of the early demos and some of the new songs performed live, and they are killer). If that weren’t enough, there’s the accompanying second Varsity Drag European tour slated for October.

Even if it is a sort of clearing off the decks, when Deily co-founded Lemonheads with Evan Dando back in the day, they were all about great punk rock with heart and wit, with Deily’s songs arguably dominating the highlights. For Deily, that’s what it’s still all about. When Deily relocated to the west coast in the '90s there were a few years of hiatus before we were finally able to hear a few demos via the Internet (this was about 10-ish years ago, and even then the intertubes weren't what they are now), and it was thrilling stuff: "Skinny Ties," the blinding "Miles of Ocean," and especially the catchy paean to Boston rock in the person of the titular scene legend/impresario "Billy Ruane."

These tracks and more were released on the mini-LP For Crying Out Loud by UK punk label Boss Tuneage in Europe in 2006 leading to a 25 date tour through Germany, England, France, Spain, and Austria that is chronicled by hilariously by Deily on his tour diary (read it here). To hear Deily tell it, this was the classic tour of its kind: long drives, weird food, sometimes empty clubs, sometimes packed clubs, no food, and the occasional random exceptional well-treatment by local promoters.

You hear all of this in the complete presentation of their February 8, 2007 set at The Weekender in Innsbruck, Austria on the new disc. Bursting out of the blocks with For Crying Out Loud's "Skinny Ties," and traveling back and forth through time to the set-closing rave-up, "Second Chance," a gem from Lemonheads' debut LP Hate Your Friends, ...Hassle is a career-spanning retrospective of surprising coherence covering 20 years and Deily is still full of a nervous energy that continues to manifest itself in sharp, driving songs and vibrant live sets.

The energy here is especially surprising when you consider that all this racket is coming from a trio and that this is a straight-from-the-soundboard recording. This is no bootleg, though. What it is is an exceptional, consistent, sweaty, bier-soaked, raw-as-the-day-it-was-made, warts-and-all you-are-there document. Are there rough moments? Only of the sort that happen when you have the guts to make a live record without benefit of overdubs and other nonsense. Besides… they do make the beer stronger over there. You can get your copy on Friday night. -- Michael Piantigini

Varsity Drag -- "Postcard" -- Rock and Roll is Such A Hassle - Live in Europe
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Download Varsity Drag's Rock and Roll is Such A Hassle - Live in Europe right here.

Varsity Drag: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

Previous Varsity Drag Coverage:
Varsity Drag @ Cantab Lounge, March 2009
Varsity Drag @ O'Brien's, August 2008
Varsity Drag @ Cantab Lounge, February 2008
Free Range Music: Varsity Drag, May 2006

July 16, 2009

Rock Over Boston: Megafaun, Future Of The Left

[PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Piantigini, used with permission] The lead track from Gather, Form and Fly (Hometapes), the sophomore album to be released next Tuesday by former Bon Iver partners Megafaun (Bon Iver + Megafaun = DeYarmond Edison) is "The Fade," a perfect three-part harmony summer pop song in the CSN tradition, but a closer reading of the lyric, and of Megafaun, reveals so much more.

The North Carolina-based trio's starting point is indeed a very traditional one: Southern roots and Appalachia –- banjos, acoustic guitars, fiddles, and gorgeous three-part harmonies (did I mention the harmonies?), but they sometimes have a tendency to take all that and run it through beat-up tape machines or samplers, or put a layer of noise over it, or let a song disintegrate entirely into a five-minute drone. Just to warp it a bit and make it all entirely modern. Megafaun's last couple of trips through town found them sharing a bill at the Middle East with the minimalist Arnold Dreyblatt and before that at the the Lily Pad with electronic musician Greg Davis, so that should give you an idea of the breadth of their influences.

So, yeah, they do sometimes have a tendency to set up jaunty sing-along melodies like the one in the new album’s "Darkest Hour," only to annihilate it utterly not only with its dark lyric, but with buzzing loops of rain, chimes, noise, crude electronic samples of the melody. But gentle meditations like "Worried Mind," demonstrate that Megafaun doesn’t overdo it.

The threesome's first album, Bury the Square, had all of these elements, too (and is recommended also), but Gather, Form and Fly is an ambitious expansion and advancement. There are a couple of moments that don’t entirely work for me, like the Caribbean drums on "Columns," but with Megafaun, it feels like it's all part of the process.

Explaining their sound, though, almost seems to undermine a description of their spirit. Their live shows, including this past Sunday's stop on their tour with Bowerbirds, feel like a celebration or an affirmation of music at its best: the live music show as congregation. They can work a crowd -– getting us involved in singing along, or handing out percussion, or just so genuinely enjoying what they do. Megafaun has been on my must-see list since I stumbled across them at SXSW a couple of years ago -– add them to yours.

And while you are adding bands to see to your lists, here’s an entirely different one to add. Make sure you head to TT’s this Friday night to see ex-Mclusky-ers Future of the Left, who are supporting their new one Travels With Myself And Another [Mclusky's "Light Sabre Cock Sucking Blues" ranks very, very high on Clicky Clicky Music Blog's patent-pending Spicoli/Sneaker Rockness Axis. -- Ed.]. I confess to not really getting it when I heard their first album, Curses!, but seeing them live did the trick. This is truly the great live rock where it has that hint of danger –- it feels like anything could happen. Be there. -– Michael Piantigini

Megafaun: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr
Future Of The Left: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr