Saturday, May 26, 2012

Concert Pics From the Month of May

I've been so phenomenally busy since the beginning of the month, I haven't had the time to post any concert pics (other than the Tunes form the Crypt benefit). The manic activity, including two weeks spent in Birmingham, Alabama, have been good from a business perspective, but have been exhausting.  I'm thrilled that my new business venture is taking off so well, but I'm also spent.  Today was the first day in a while I've had any time at all to do anything at all with my waking hours rather than work, so I figured I'd upload and post these pics before they got too old.

Back on May 12th, I saw Baltimore's Beach House play the Georgia Theater over in Athens.  Beach House have a distinctive dream-pop sound, reminiscent of Cocteau Twins and Stereolab, while still maintaining their own identity.  They played a near-perfect set, expertly executed and flawlessly mixed by the Georgia Theater sound system.  Singer Victoria Legrand's unusual-sounding voice - deeper than you'd expect, but at the same time gentle and soothing - rose above the instruments and could be heard clearly.  They also got a lot of mileage from their minimalist stage setting, which looked at first like a mere set of planks, but with changing lights surprised with many different colors and effects.

Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, Austin's Shearwater opened for St. Vincent at the Variety Playhouse on May 19.

I've seen Shearwater twice before, both times at The Earl, the most recent show during last spring's March Madness.  But due to the epic sweep of their music and the strength of their compositions, I would gladly listen to then again and again, and although the Variety Playhouse is a less intimate venue than The Earl, it was a treat seeing them on a big stage and in front of a larger crowd.  Singer Jonathan Meiburg's voice is seemingly incapable of sounding anything less than epic, and together with the dramatic, propulsive sound of his band, Shearwater's music somehow makes me feel like running out and setting fire to a Viking ship or something.

Is there a more subversive musician in indie rock today than Annie Clark of St. Vincent?  Her waifish appearance and pretty voice beguile the listener into expecting sweet, pretty little songs and melodies, but in the middle of a number she's apt to surprise the audience and unleash a snarling guitar solo.  And even the lyrics to the seemingly innocent songs hint at a darker view of a world bordering on madness.  "I spent the summer on my back," she croons to open the song Surgeon, but one quickly discovers that instead of spending that summer making love, she was instead the object of surgery.  And the complexity is deeper than that - in her stage banter before the song, she revealed that it was inspired by a line from Marilyn Monroe's diary, in which she wrote to her acting coach Lee Strasberg, "Surgeon, cut me open."  In a sense, she employs a strategy similar to Weasels Ripped My Flesh-vintage Frank Zappa - she sets the listener up with an inviting opening melody, only to confound with her lyrics and then ambush the unsuspecting with bizarre pedal effects and distorted guitar lines.  On stage, her "tell," as poker players would say, was that before tearing it up on guitar, she would gingerly take an almost comical series of little stutter steps back away from the microphone in her platform heels. But she still surprised everyone when from the edge of the stage she turned her back to the audience and then fell backwards to surf the crowd, even while still continuing to sing.  After the crowd returned her to the stage, she turned around and dove back in again, both literally and symbolically sacrificing herself to the audience.

The following week (May 23), JBM opened for Damian Jurado at The Earl.  JBM is the band name for singer/songwriter Jesse Marchant of Montreal, who plays acoustic guitar and sings about subjects including "personal experience and the familiarity with loss."  I hadn't heard him before, but he commanded an intense and serious presence on stage, and seemed to sing from direct experience.

I've seen Damian Jurado twice before, a couple of years ago at The Earl and last September at Portland's Bunk Bar during Music Fest Northwest.  On both occasions, he performed solo with his acoustic guitar, sitting on a chair, playing exquisitely crafted songs and ballads like Cloudy Shoes and Arkansas.  His latest album, Maraqopa, hinted at a greater dynamism and I was looking forward to hearing him with a full band, but I don't think anyone expected the performance he delivered.  He opened with the psychedelic rocker Nothing Is the News, standing shoeless at the mic in his socks as the band tore it up, before settling into only slightly more familiar folk-rock territory.  He occasionally danced around the stage a little, sliding in his stocking feet, and was far more energetic that I would ever have expected. But he literally blew minds with his closing number, a gospel barnburner during which he declared that his days singing sad, depressing songs are over, and that from now on, he's moving toward the light.  "No more singer songwriter," he declared.  He repeated this vow before his encore set, saying that he's finished with being sad and that from here on in, he's all about happiness.  "Seriously," he assured the audience, "you can laugh if you want, but those days are over."  To say this was a transitional performance for Mr. Jurado would be an understatement.  It was akin to Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival (but with cheers and applause rather than booing).  He closed the evening with a reverent and moving rendition of Arkansas, all the more poignant because no one knows if they'll ever hear him sing it again.

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