Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Other Show Like It Round Here: The New Pornographers in Concert

I haven’t been a fan of the New Pornographers for nearly as long as I should have been, or nearly as long as you might guess based on what I feed into Pandora and Last.fm on a daily basis. One play of “Sing Me Spanish Techno” last September on my “Indie Pop Bonanza” Pandora station, though, and I was A Fan.  Call them whatever adjective of indie you like, or invoke the “supergroup” label if you must, but it doesn't matter.  These guys make the exact brand of music I like: happy, poppy music with conventional tonality and familiar structure but themes and vocabulary that are anything but ordinary.

The only complaints I can make about this show pertain to things that happened before the New Pornographers themselves started playing.  One of the biggest issues with the show was the merch stand, of all things—and when the merch stand is among your biggest complaints, you’re attending a fine concert indeed.  (Bands, do your male fans a favor and make your shirts available in men’s sizes other than small.)  Dejected (but twenty bucks less poor), I sat through forty-five minutes of opener and half an hour of set change before Neko, A.C., and company finally took the stage.

It's my policy not to comment on openers unless they're any good, so I'll skip to my Concert Gripe of the Day: unnecessarily long set changes.  Clear some guitars out of the way, put some new ones out.  Drag a drum kit twenty feet.  Arrange stools, microphones, bottles of water.  Then let the band play.  It really shouldn't take more than ten or fifteen minutes, and it rarely does, but for reasons that can only be related to the venue wanting to drum up drink sales, we're forced to gaze at the empty stage for fifteen more minutes.

But after the wait always comes good music, so it's something the concertgoer must be willing to endure... and if nothing else, the New Pornographers make good music.  The opening number, "Moves," played out almost like an extended sound-check (something that theoretically could have been done during that fifteen minutes of nothing).  Neko Case in particular took charge of the stage like a general on her battlefield, giving cryptic hand signs to offstage sound guys and sprinting to bark a few seconds of orders in between most of the first six or seven songs.

It was good to see Neko finally start rocking a few songs into the set--"tentative" is not exactly the word you'd usually associate with the woman responsible for the vocals on "Letter From An Occupant," but for the first ten minutes, she seemed strangely out of her element.  It seems utterly ludicrous to associate stage fright with someone who's been at this for at least ten years, but whether it was nerves, an overriding concern for the sound balance, or second-guessing where she'd told the Second Cavalry to make its charge, she settled down soon enough.  By the time they started jamming about "The Slow Descent into Alcoholism," the entire band was brimming with an energy that lasted another entire hour.

Along the way, the New Pornographers completely nailed "Mass Romantic," "It's Only Divine Right," "Crash Years," "Jackie, Dressed In Cobras," and probably a dozen more songs I'm forgetting.  "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" still has never failed to make me smile.  "The Bleeding Heart Show" was exactly the right way to end the show (though the band missed a golden opportunity for audience participation in the "hey-la" out-tro), "Challengers" was the encore song I never knew I always wanted to hear, and "Sing Me Spanish Techno" made a triumphant actual end to the show.

Three more things made this show awesome.  First, even people who weren't too familiar with the band had a great time, which is a sure sign the band is doing something right.  Second, blessedly few concert fouls were committed--even the weed cloud kept itself at bay until nearly the end of the show.  And third, like any "hey, let's get together and tour for fun and profit" shows, it wasn't tied to an album, and there was a legitimate chance the band will play any given song in their discography; if I'd made a wish list of, say, ten songs I would have wanted the New Pornographers to play, they would have hit at least eight of them.

Currently listening: "Home Is A Fire," from the soon-to-be-released Death Cab album

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Ke$ha Week 2011: Day 7, or The Conclusion

It's been a fun week, Ke-dollar sign-ha, but it's back to the land of indie rock and pre-baroque polyphany for me.  Today, I'll look back at the hits and misses of the week plus talk about some things I wish had shows up but didn't.

Ke$ha Week, Day 7: April 2, 2011

Ke$ha "hit" that never showed up (much to my dismay): "Dinosaur".  How can you not love a song that starts with "D I/ N O/ S A/ you are a dinosaur" and is basically about Ke$ha's distaste for older men hitting on her?  I feel like I got every Ke$ha song out there except for this one... and next to "Blow," it's easily my second-favorite Ke$ha song.

Saving graces that never showed up (even though I thought they had a pretty good chance): anything at all by either Metric or Paramore.   Metric is sort of, kind of, almost dance pop (though there's probably a veritable army of Canadian indie kids who would berate me for applying that label); both Avril Lavigne (who Pandora associates very closely with Paramore... ask me how I know) and Haley Williams herself (though B.o.B.) showed up on the station.  Both bands have female vocalists. And both bands are responsible for songs that I thumbed-up or seeded on other stations.  Now, I haven't been able to confirm this, but I swear that Pandora does this thing where it looks at your stations and subtly pulls in music from them to other stations.  I had my fingers crossed that would happen here.  But apparently Pandora was in on the wager, because it was having none of that.

Pandora trend that I'm just now picking up on: its distribution of well-known songs versus deeper cuts.  If you seed a station with a single artist (as I've done here), the station will play anything and everything by that artist.  Then, it'll try to find artists that are similar to your seeded artist... but it only plays their better-known tracks.  For example, I came across "Sleazy" by Ke$ha (which certainly lives up to its name), which is track 3 off of Cannibal, a song I'd never heard before and would never expect to hear on the radio.  But for all the Jason Derulo the station figured I needed to hear, I only got "Whatcha Say," "In My Head," and "Ridin' Solo," Derulo's three massive hits, but about six times apiece.

Did "Like A G6" show up?  No... for the first time this week.  I was shocked too.

Last song of Ke$ha Week 2011: "Tik Tok," Ke$ha.  Couldn't have asked for a more appropriate note to exit on.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Ke$ha Week 2011: Day 6, or: Actually, This Station is Pretty Good

You know, after six straight days of listening to Ke$ha and similarly dance-poppy music, it's really starting to grow on me.  I've already bought Lady Gaga's The Fame and pre-ordered Born This Way, and I think I'm headed to the club tonight in hopes of hearing a little Taio Cruz or Iyaz.  And I was really pumped when I got to hear Jason Derulo on the radio yesterday!

Ke$ha Week, Day 6: April 1, 2011

Ke$ha hit of the day: Your Love Is My Drug (remix).  This song paints a very real and intimate picture of Ke$ha's psyche.  She shows vulnerability when she talks about her "sick obsession," and she crafts a subtle and evocative metaphor throughout the song, equating her feelings to a physiological addiction.  By far, the most touching lyric is "my esteem is gonna get affected/ if I keep it up like a lovesick crackhead," where she demonstrates her inability to function separately from her emotions.

Most heartfelt, relatable themes: "Waking Up in Vegas," Katy Perry.  Who among can't relate to slightly awkward circumstances like these: "why are these lights so bright/ did we get hitched last night?"  Repetitive, catchy choruses bring us all back to the times we've had to shake off the glitter in our clothes after waking up somewhere we didn't plan on.

Best example of pop music as art: "Bad Romance," Lady Gaga.  If you haven't seen the video, you're really missing out--it's a stunning artistic vision, combining abstract symbolism with dance pop hooks and dark, minor modalities.

Most inspired chorus: "Iyaz," Replay.  "got me singin' like/ na na na na everyday/ it's like my iPod stuck on replay."  Too few artists pay tribute to the physical medium of music anymore.  Iyaz offers the insight that he's deeply connected to how his fans listen to his music--and with a clever double meaning, succeeds in getting his own song stuck in our heads like all of our respective iPods are stuck on replay.

Did "Like A G6" show up?  Yes, but I had to wait over an hour for it!  The undisputed party anthem of 2010 dares to imagine a universe in which there's something "flyer than a G4" and revels in its electrosynth glory.

Happy April Fool's, everyone.  Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of Ke$ha Week 2011.

Ke$ha Week 2011: Day 5, In Which My Patience For Rihanna Wears Thin

Prior to the beginning of this ordeal, one of the artists likely to show up on the Ke$ha station that I  would have said I didn't so much mind was Rihanna.  Not that I liked Rihanna necessarily--although I'll readily admit to thinking "Disturbia" is a fine song--but that compared to the likes of 3OH!3, a little Rihanna isn't so bad.

I have changed my mind.

Ke$ha Week, Day 5: March 31, 2011

Ke$ha "hit" of the day: "We R Who We R".  Again, this isn't one of her more outrageous songs, but it does contain the requisite amount of sleaze: "stockings ripped all up the side/ looking sick and sexy-fied."

Song I would actually be okay with never hearing again because I've had to endure so much of it: "Love the Way You Lie," Rihanna.  Over the last five days, it has shown up at least half a dozen times in its various incarnations--I didn't know this before I started my endeavor, but there are actually two "parts" to this song; the one you heard every day on the radio in 2010 is the first.  Honorable mentions for outstanding contribution to my Rihanna saturation go to "Only Girl (In the World)" and "S&M".

Peak ridiculousness: "My First Kiss," 3OH!3 feat. Ke$ha.  In retrospect, I shouldn't have expected anything but peak ridiculousness from a song by 3OH!3 that feats Ke$ha.  My favorite lyric has to be "your kiss is like whiskey; it gets me drunk," because it's so amusingly straightforward.  The dance poppy chorus is actually not that bad, but Ke$ha making kissing noises is just weird.

Song that I skipped: "Starrstrukk", 3OH!3.  If Day 5 was responsible for wearing down my Rihanna buffer, it also made me realize that I had absolutely no 3OH!3 buffer.  Besides, if I wanted to hear douchebag white guys yell at me and pretend they're good rappers, I could just listen to Eminem's part of "Love the Way You Lie."

Is David Guetta is still bad?  Yes, if you believe "Who's That Chick".  Aside from being irritatingly overproduced--I don't think there's a single audio element of this song that's not electronic in some form--includes such inspired lyrics as "urrbody's gettin' low."

Friday, April 01, 2011

Ke$ha Week 2011: Day 4, or: "This Place About to Blow"

The halfway point in the Ke$ha marathon marked both the first time that Ke$ha herself didn't start the day (usually, when you start a station based on a single artist, Pandora makes some effort to play a song by that artist first) and the first time I've heard a Ke$ha song and its remix in the same day.

Ke$ha Week 2011, Day 4: March 30, 2011

Ke$ha "hit" of the day: "Blow" (plus its remix).  The best lyric is "Throw some glitter, make it rain," but the lyrics aren't the best part of "Blow"--it's the video.  Please watch this video.  It's simultaneously terrifying and the greatest music video I've seen this year.

Today's overexposed artist: Katy Perry.  Pulling a Lady Gaga move, Ms. Perry hasn't been featured this week nearly as much as I thought she would have--until today.  My first song of today was "Teenage Dream," which would almost not be a terrible song, but for lyrics like "get your heart racing in my skin-tight jeans."  In the span of less than an hour, I also got hit with "California Gurls," and "I Kissed A Girl".  Later, because I apparently hadn't had enough Katy Perry, Pandora decided I need a "Teenage Dream" encore.

Most hilarious reimagining of an 80's hit: "Right Round," Flo Rida.  Of course, this song appears on the station because it's more correctly "Flo Rida feat. Ke$ha."  Only us true fans know that this song is how she got her big break.

Song that inspired the best Hanukkah-themed parody: "Dynamite," Taio Cruz.  If you missed "Candlelight" last Hanukkah, now would be a great time to catch up--particularly because the Maccabeats have a new song for Purim!

First time that the ATL has gotten some props on this station: "Break Your Heart," Taio Cruz feat. Ludacris.  It's not a great song (nor is it a bad song by the standards of this station), but I can't help but cut Luda some slack.  After all, this is the genius responsible for "What's Your Fantasy," "Pimpin' All Over the World," and of course "Welcome to Atlanta"... and he never misses an opportunity to rep the Dirty South.