2015 Live Shows: Courtney Barnett, B&S, NMH

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This here is a wrap-up of concerts I’ve seen recently, and what that means for you, dear reader. First, Courtney Barnett. She is at Pitchfork this weekend! She reminds me of a cross between Lou Reed and Pavement. We drove up to Milwaukee a while back to see her open for Belle and Sebastian.

Honestly we just saw B&S at the Riv in April, and I was thinking that I probably would not have hauled up to Milwaukee just to see B&S. That would have been a mistake because the B&S show was fantastic and I would have been an idiot to miss it. Stevie Jackson, in particular, seemed amused to be in Milwaukee – a fan of “The Fonz” from way back, perhaps?

But back to Courtney Barnett, I got the strong sense that many in crowd at the Pabst, like me, were really there at out of excitement for her opening set, which was quite brief but awesome, more impressive than either of Barnett’s albums that I own on vinyl (Sometimes I Sits and The Double EP) which are both already super impressive.

We have been going to Milwaukee for shows a lot lately, we went to see Neutral Milk Hotel towards the end of April, and I tried to write about them but I couldn’t write anything that didn’t seem horrible. Don’t get me wrong, the musicality was totally THERE, and the songs still inspire. I read once that NMH thought they were out to change the world and thought they failed. I don’t know about that. When I saw Neutral Milk Hotel in the late 90’s (twice, at Lounge Ax – first opening for Superchunk, and then as headliners), I was on track to a corporate career and suburban motherhood. Now years later, after listing to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea maybe several thousand times, I am a corporate careerist and a suburban mom whose inner life is profoundly influenced by Neutral Milk Hotel. Now that’s a world of difference.

When I heard they were coming back after all this time, I was skeptical. I found the experience of seeing them live very uncomfortable. Lounge Ax was a small venue, and I was close enough to see everyone in the band’s nose hair. My first instinct was to excuse myself and go stand in the corner of the ladies room. Like the club, the ladies room was also really small, and no corners to stand in. So I came upstairs and watched the show. Those guys were weird, weirdly intense, weirdly authentic and weirdly driven. Earth-shaking, but not exactly cool. I wondered if the current audience who mostly missed them the first time around would be put off. But no, the audience seemed more concerned about reassuring and supporting Jeff Mangum and the band–one guy from the audience yelled our “we love you” early in the show–than making any judgments, or even being entertained. The Riverside is a big venue, but I could see the band, The weird intensity was gone, they just seemed happy, with Jeff Mangum often rocking back and forth on his heels like a little kid.

Anyway, the moral of the story is GO SEE COURTNEY BARNETT. And write back and tell me about it, ‘cause Pitchfork ain’t in the cards for me this year.
If you want to learn more about this bands read up on them with my Pinterest Pages: Courtney Barnett, Belle and Sebastian, and Neutral Milk Hotel.

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Belle & Sebastian with Honeyblood at The Riviera April 2015

The Belle & Sabastian concert on Friday at the Riviera in Chicago: It was a near perfect thing and I’m happy.

This is the third time I’ve seen Belle & Sebastian live, and it was the best yet. But where to start?

Well, first things first. Honeyblood. I generally resent opening bands. Honeyblood, however, was fantastic. Kind of like a lush, layered version of Throwing Muses, served with a side of Scottish righteous indignance. I have been listening to Honeyblood incessantly on Spotify and I can’t wait to pick up the debut album.

I became aware of Belle & Sebastian when Dear Catastrophe Waitress came out. I loved that CD, but Belle & Sebastian didn’t seem so different from The Shins, The Decemberists,  Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, The Postal Service–it was a happy time for me, music-wise, the early 2000s, the height of indie pop.

That record led me to Belle & Sebastian’s extensive back catalogue: If You Are Feeling Sinister, The Boy With The Arab Strap, and Tiger Milk were just stuffed with beautiful songs that were personal and direct and riveting and kind.  And uniquely so, Maybe that’s why the mostly-very-much-younger-than-me crowd went so nuts for my old loves: Century of Fakers, The Boy With The Arab Strap and Lazy Line Painter Jane. The on-stage participation towards the end of the concert was what made the show for me. The crowd brought those old songs alive again.

But I was there to hear what Stuart & friends are up to now. In Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, they continue to share their quirky take on life and how to live it. Nobody’s Empire is the big anthem off that album. The Party Line is beautifully nostalgic, as is Enter Sylvia Plath. And, on first listen, I was totally obsessed with the song Perfect Couples which is a bit of satire about modern manners. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t sure if I really liked Perfect Couples or if I really didn’t like it. But the live version (with bongos!) was freakin’ great and accompanied by a video that really worked. There was quite a lot of film in this show, maybe prompted by Stuart’s foray into film-making with God Help the Girl, or the fact the people listen to music via YouTube more and more.

So, why only near perfect? Stuart seemed a bit stressed at the beginning and made a few comments probably referring an ill-considered op-ed from Pitchfork (srsly, p4k, cray-cray much?). Still, I hope the crowd made the band feel well-loved in Chicago. Because they are!

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Benjamin Booker @ Metro Chicago 3/28/2015

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SMOKIN’ I caught Benjamin Booker at the Metro. I am a huge fan of the debut album, and I love BB even more now. To me the Metro is a punk rock palace, and you gotta go big or go home. Don’t worry, Benjamin Booker did just fine owning the venue. Until I saw the show, I thought of Benjamin Booker as a guy, but the band is actually an amazing three piece, including bassist Alex Spoto and drummer Max Norton, who was pretty damn remarkable. Benjamin Booker, as the frontman, comes across as a total doll — a fun guy just having a lot of fun. The show was sold out and the crowd just ate up the whole set. Someone next to me remarked, “Wow this is an intense show.” I’m most impressed by how many musical influences these guys draw on and the fact that they just rock. Toward the end, there was an interlude with feedback and then a jumbled, crashy psychedelic guitar solo which almost lost me but the always sardonic Mr. Muse said, “It touched me.” Anyhow that little bit was reminiscent of the Butthole Surfers who are a perfectly fine band I really can’t stand. (Aggh, Benjamin Booker you have now made me break the first rule of The Owl Muse…don’t talk shit about anybody. But I figure if the Butthole Surfers did want people to talk shit about them they wouldn’t have called themselves the Butthole Surfers, or those album covers, or pretty much anything). But I digress! BENJAMIN BOOKER. GREAT SHOW. LOTS OF FUN. CATCH IT IF YOU CAN. It’s probably just what you need.

If you go to the Metro, you probably don’t want to drive unless you don’t mind tooling around for a while to find parking. We grabbed a bite to eat at Southport & Irving (which was great and had live music) and walked down Clark (about 10-15 minutes) to Metro. We got there just a few minutes before they announced the headliner, and had a pretty bad spot in the back next to the bar, but we could still see the band pretty well. Sorry I didn’t get any pictures, but Gapers Block also has reviewed the show and has great photos.

You can also check out my fan-girl Pinterest page on Benjamin Booker if you want to know more.

P.S. This post is dedicated to my dear mother without whom nothing would be possible.

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What’s Up And Warpaint

Two weeks since my last post — lots of travel and assorted craziness. Music-wise, we did catch the Warpaint in Milwaukee at The Pabst Theater. It was good, very enjoyable, very tranc-y and atmospheric. I hesitate to call it a show, exactly — it was more like the band was sort of letting you watch them jam, rather than that they were actually performing. I have to say that it was my first time at The Pabst, and I loved it. The crowd was smallish, and friendly. Beautiful theatre, comfortable, and very intimate.

Here’s a video of my favorite Warpaint song.

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