Friday, November 30, 2007

The Softlightes at the Echoplex

I thoroughly enjoyed The Softlightes at the Detroit Bar the last time I saw them. It has been an excellent month with Monday night residencies so I drove out to the Echoplex to catch the final night with the Softlightes.

El Ten Eleven fooled me at first because I thought it was The Softlightes. It turns out that El Ten Eleven is Kristian Dunn (Guitar/Bass) and Tim Fogarty(Drums) from the Softlightes. Kristian was playing a 1977 Carvin Guitar/Bass doubleneck that was connected to 2 Digitech Whammy Pedals, 2 Boss Looping Pedals and a Line 6 Delay pedal. Kristian would sample his bass or guitar and proceed to lay stacks of loops on each other. Tim mixed acoustic and electronic drums to give the music a warm organic vibe. It was as if Battles and Pinback fought and El Ten Eleven won. Kristian also tapped into his inner Les Claypool with a fretless bass playing and some proficient two handed tapping. El Ten Eleven has 2 releases that I will have to investigate "El Ten Eleven" from 2005 and "Every Direction Is North". I wonder if El Ten Eleven took off what would become of the Softlightes?

Porterville from Los Angeles were next with their synth sprinkled indie dance rock. It reminded me of a Ghostland Observatory crossed with the Rapture and a dash of Weezer. When they played their song "The Preafterlife", a section of the crowd started to bust out their dance moves. I wonder if they really are from Porterville, California?

The Softlightes swayed the crowd with their sugar coated songs and sweet dynamics. Ron Fountenberry (Vocals/Guitars) was wistfully strumming his lefty Epiphone Hollowbody to coax out their tender songs. Jeff Hibshman (Keyboards) had his drool worthy Korg Oasys keyboard setup and was employing some split layers to add extra dimensions to their tightly spun songs. "Heart Made Of Sound" is a great example of their solid songwriting skills. "The Robots In My Bedroom Were Playing Arena Rock" maybe a wink at Daft Punk but I think more songs should heavily employ the vocoder. Tim Fogarty (Drums) and Kristian Dunn (Bass) locked in for "GirlKillsBear" which sounds even better live. The Softlightes even managed to bribe the audience with cookies. The cookies were holiday spice if I remember correctly. When is the last time you received cookies from a band?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Travis at the House of Blues Anaheim

I have been waiting for Travis to return ever since I saw them at the KCRW Sounds Eclectic Evening. The band is touring in support of its new album "The Boy With No Name" which is a reference to Fran Healy's son when he was trying to figure out a name.

Maximo Park

The world needs more front men like Paul Smith (Vocals) from Maximo Park. Paul was not contained by the half stage as he bounded about like the energizer bunny. Maximo Park opened their set with "Signal and Sign" off their excellent debut album "A Certain Trigger". Duncan Lloyd (Guitars) had a black Rickenbacker guitar that had a jangle reminiscent of Peter Buck from REM. Maximo Park didn't let up the entire set as they charged into "Girls Who Play Guitars" with a bouncy bass hook provided by Archis Tiku (Bass). "A Fortnight's Time" off their latest album "Our Earthly Pleasures" had a heightened sense of urgency mixed with a dash of paranoia. "Karaoke Plays" sounded even better live with Paul doing his mid air acrobatics as Lukas Wooller (Keyboards) added the soft keyboard flourishes to the song. I don't think most of the Travis audience was prepared for the onslaught of Maximo Park but the round of applause that they received was confirmation of another audience won over.
Maximo Park Setlist at the House of Blues Anaheim (11/24/07)
"Signal and Sign"
"Girls Who Play Guitars"
"A Fortnight's Time"
"Now I'm All over the Shop"
"Karaoke Plays"
"By the Monument"
"Apply Some Pressure"
"Your Urge"
"The Unshockable"
"Kiss You Better"
"Books From Boxes"
"Going Missing"
"Our Velocity"

I have been to a lot of shows at the House of Blues in Anaheim and can safely say this was one of the best sounding concerts I have attended. I would attribute this to Travis and to their soundboard which happened to be a Digidesign D-Control system. After making a grand entrance through the audience in boxing robes and the theme to Rocky, the boys climbed the stage and threw the audience a stinging jab with "Selfish Jean" off their album "The Boy With No Name". Fran Healy (Vocals/Guitars) perpetually had a smile on his face as he strummed his Fender Telecaster guitar. Andy Dunlop (Guitars) tweaked his volume knob on his Gibson Les Paul for a creamy violin like solo during "As You Are". "My Eyes" was heavenly as Fran played a glistening 12 string Guild Acoustic guitar that sounded as gorgeous as it looked. I was impressed when they brought out the banjo for the intro to "Sing". "Driftwood" had a large majority of the audience singing along as Fran had a capo on the 7th fret of his guitar. "All I Want To Do Is Rock" had Andy taking his guitar to the people as he made his way into the center of the audience for the solo section of the song. Fran came back out by himself to do a true unplugged version of "20" as he unplugged his acoustic guitar and belted out the song. One could hear a pin drop as Fran played the song. "Flowers In The Window" was performed acoustically plugged in with the rest of the band helping out on background vocals. Travis closed the evening with a warm version of "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?". It was the perfect knockout punch to end the night. Travis is still the reigning champion.

Travis Setlist at the House of Blues in Anaheim (11/24/07)
"Selfish Jean"
"Eyes Wide Open"
"Love Will Come Through"
"As You Are"
"My Eyes"
"Pipe Dreams"
"The Beautiful Occupation"
"Good Feeling"
"All I Want To Do Is Rock"
"Baby Hit Me One More Time"
"Flowers In The Window"
"3 Times and You Lose"
"Blue Flashing Light"
"Why Does It Always Rain On Me?"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cold War Kids at the Wiltern

Cold War Kids have had a banner year. In January, I saw them at Spaceland. They rocked the El Rey in February. KCRW featured them at the Sounds Eclectic evening in April. I correctly predicted they would sell out the Wiltern after seeing them at the Echoplex in June.

We Barbarians

We Barbarians opened up the show at the Wiltern and played a blistering set. I was blown away seeing their first show at the Detroit Bar. They played like seasoned veterans as Davey Quon (Vocals/Guitars) led the charge with a passionate performance leaving nothing left on stage. Derek Van Heule (Bass) was pounding his Gibson ripper bass and pacing back and forth as Nathan Warkentin (Drums) added background vocals to his clock like drumming. I correctly predicted back in September that they would have a Detroit Bar residency which will occur in February. I will definitely check out some of those shows and I suggest you do the same.

Cold War Kids

A large backdrop and sparse stage lighting set the background for the Cold War Kids. They received a hearty hometown welcoming as they gathered their instruments. The opening notes of "Tell Me In the Morning" off their debut album "Robbers & Cowards" filled the Wiltern and the show began. When bands start playing larger venues sometimes they lose the hunger and energy of playing small clubs. This was not the case as the Cold War Kids simply owned the stage with a gripping performance by Nathan Willett (Guitars/Vocals) and company. The rattlesnake shake of "We Used To Vacation" led in the rambling piano and slow played guitar lines. The stage went black except for a few spotlights for "Robbers" as the Cold War Kids pointed their lights to spotlight the crowd during the song. Jonnie Russell (Guitars) nailed the tin can hollow reverb solo portion of the song. Don't Let Your Love Grow Away (from me) from their EP "Mulberry Street" was a nice surprise. "God, Make Up Your Mind" had Nathan singing in a higher falsetto compared to the recorded version and showed that Nathan really knows how to sing. Matt Maust has switched his Rickenbacker bass for a White Fender bass as he launched into "Hang Me Up To Dry". The night was capped with performance of "Saint John" unlike any version I have witnessed before with 10 people total on stage including members of We Barbarians and the Sparrow Love Crew banging various drums, cans, and cymbals. The Cold War Kids have made a lot of good noise this year and look to continue their ruckus in 2008.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Airborne Toxic Event and Cavil At Rest at the Detroit Bar

It seemed like I had not been to the Detroit Bar in ages when I pulled into the parking lot on Monday night. It was a free show with three upcoming bands Castledoor, The Airborne Toxic Event and Cavil at Rest.


It has been quite sometime since I last saw Castledoor here. Their growth is noticeable as they had gathered quite an audience watching their early performance. Nate Cole (Vocals) looked extremely comfortable singing heartfelt lyrics into compact catchy songs. When the opening notes of "The Man Who Sold The World" rang out, I was skeptical at first but Castledoor nailed it convincing me after a few bars. They played a new song entitled "Dumpster Diving" that showed great promise. Castledoor can be added on the list of bands to watch in 2008.

The Airborne Toxic Event

I missed Airborne Toxic Event when they played the Echoplex a few weeks back and heard the show was sold out. The buzz on them has been deafening as Buzz Bands and Inflight At Night have both profiled the band. They are signed to a UK label(Square) and have already toured the UK. It seems like they are poised to break out in the states as they have received airplay on some local radio stations. The delay washed keyboards of "Wishing Well" roam around inside your head as the overdriven Fender Jaguar comes roaring in behind a steady beat only to give way to Mikel Jollett's commanding voice. It was part Talking Heads and part Smiths rolled into one. "Papillon" shifted gears upward as they really turned up the heat. It is disheartening to think I can only listen to their 3 song EP. They will be finishing their record in December before embarking on a Thursday January Spaceland residency.

Cavil at Rest

I have seen a lot of guitars on stage in my time but was stumped for Cavil at Rest's whole set until Taylor Rice (Vocals/Guitars) explained he was playing a Goya Guitar made in Italy. Taylor was just one of the trio of front men for Cavil at Rest. Kelcey Ayer and Ryan Hahn made up the rest of the mixed singer trio. It was hard to believe they were unsigned as they glided into their brand of indie psychedelic folk rock. They used their trio of singer-songwriters to their advantage as each song varied and it was difficult to predict where their songs would go. I found this attribute to be a strength as they switched emphasis between vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards in their songs. My radar is on overload with three bands in one night to look out for.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sea Wolf at the Belly Up

Sea Wolf

I asked Alex Church when he was in Irving after this show when was he going to play again. Alex mentioned it would not be for a long time. It turned out he was prophetic as he would later form Sea Wolf.

Dios Malos

Dios (Malos) have been around for quite sometime with their hazy psychedelic rock. I remember seeing them open for Morrissey at the Wiltern when they were called Dios. Unfortunately, they were sued by Ronnie James Dio and had to change their name to Dios Malos. I think they should have changed their name to Rainbows.

Old Man Hands

Old Man Hands from San Diego played a handful of folk infused acoustic jams. They even managed to work an accordion, flute, violin and Rhodes keyboards into the songs. Old Man Hands is the main project of Gabriel Feenbergs who was playing in other bands before heading up his solo project. It was in the same vein as Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens. "Weight Of the Night" is the latest release by Old Man Hands.

Sea Wolf

Sea Wolf has been gaining momentum quite rapidly as of late. Sea Wolf was recently featured on KCRW as well as The word is spreading quick that their album "Leaves In The River" is one of the catchier quiet albums of 2007. Alex Church (Vocals/Guitars) has a soothing voice that meshes well with the memorable melodies of keyboards and jangly acoustic guitars. I feel the secret weapon of Sea Wolf is Aniela Perry (Cello) who amplifies the soul of the songs with her cello playing. The cello enhances the cinematic element of Alex's storytelling lyrics. Sea Wolf had the crowd in the palm of their hand by the time they played their second song of their set "Winter Windows". The cello and keyboards all realize their space in the song as they nicely blend into the Alex's voice. Sea Wolf's songs vary nicely in their pace to make each song stand out. "The Cold, The Dark & The Silence" was next and could easily dominate the airwaves with its punchy acoustic lead riff and yearning cello. "Middle Distance Runner" also has single potential with its hypnotic fingerpicking acoustic guitars and rhythmic bass drum beat. Sea Wolf will be playing a few more dates to close out 2007 but look for them to break out in 2008.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Scream 2007: Analog Live! at the Redcat Theater

Scream 2007 has been of the highlights of my concert year. Matrix Synth tipped me off to this event quite awhile back and I immediately checked for when tickets went on sale. This was an event that one can only hope will be duplicated again. The premise of this event was to gather forerunners of the analog world for a monumental display. It was a Jedi council of analog synthesis masters.

Gary Chang

Gary Chang was first as he played a piece entitled "Sancturies:Faith". Gary sat behind his massive Wiard system and a sea of blinking lights started to twinkle around him. Gary has a history of film scoring and showcased this talent with an stunning ambient piece. It reminded me of something that Ulrich Schnauss would do. It was cinematic in the true sense of the word. The only way to describe it would be if you were traveling the ocean on a bright day as a light mist hit you. I am sure many others in the audience visualized something else. There was a screen running visuals throughout the show but I was more enthralled with the performers. Gary's song lasted roughly nine minutes but it went by in seconds.

Chas Smith

Chas Smith was next with his song "The Ghosts on the Windows". Chas Smith is a welder and designer of large metal mechanisms and brought some of his crazy inventions including "The Towers" and "Guitarzilla". "The Towers" are large titanium rods with titanium plates welded on the ends. Chas had some mallets that he would use to generate a hollow metallic chimey soundscape. His song did conjure images of ghosts and darkness. When the titanium rods were struck, it sent an icy chill throughout the room. It was striking how musical the rods were. Chas would later use his "Guitarzilla" which is a 12 string neck and an 8 string bass neck with a bevy of effects pedals at his feet.
Cold Blue Music distributes some of Chas Smith's cds. Chas's song lasted about 10 minutes.

Peter Grenader

Peter Grenader was next with "The Secret Life of Semiconductors". It was Part 4 and the Coda from the original piece and this is where the analog action really started to heat up. Peter runs Plan B synthesizers which are featured along with Livewire in Alessandro Cortini's EAR modular system. Peter's piece started with rapid fire drums that were punctuated with almost xylophone sound swells as the momentum continually built. A large round of applause capped his performance.

Alessandro Cortini

Alessandro Cortini was next. Alessandro had his Buchla 200e system and his EAR Modular system in concordance with his French Connection controller. Alessandro's piece was "Paris 1" and written while he was in Paris while touring with Nine Inch Nails. Alessandro is also in ModWheelmood which I highly recommend you check out. He recently released "Things Will Change" which features some of his songs remixed by some excellent artists like TRS-80, Thavius Beck and my favorite by Roger O'Donnell. Alessandro's song started off with a sequenced arpeggiated piece that he triggered bathed in synth washes. Alessandro used the ring on his French connection to add some theremin like effects to the song.


Thighpaulsandra has an extensive background in electronics and quite the resume having five solo albums and being a member of Spirtualized. Thighpaulsandra performed "The Aborted Ascension of Angel Assassins" which was the most collaborative song of the night. A bundle of gear surrounded him as he played. A detailed setup is listed here. The song started off like a soundtrack to an old video games and Thighpaulsandra would visually cue the other members into the song to add their own analog goodness. I was particularly blow away by his Moog Voyager solo where he used the pitch and modulation wheels extensively. The song had so many layers and elements going on, the listener was immersed in sound. I detected musical moments of Tron, The Terminator and Galaga but infinitely cooler. My mind was already starting to melt.

Richard Devine

RIchard Devine closed out the evening in grand fashion. It was a laptop performance that was nothing that I have ever seen or heard. Bit smashing, glitch, reconstruction and deconstruction are some of the descriptive elements for his performance. I could only think that it had elements of sounds from the Matrix but way more intense. I didn't hear any repetitive segments in his song but there was a strong rhythmic component near the end. Richard had a Sony Vaio laptop and an Apple laptop amongst his Korg MS-20 USB controller. Richard looked fiercely intense and cradled his Sony laptop at one point and used the track pad to control the sound elements. His performance was symbolically ended with him pulling the plug on his laptop. My mind was officially blown.

Overall, the evening was one that synth enthusiasts will not forget. Each performance built on itself and culminated to a grand finale. I really hope they could arrange to do something like this again. I have been to roughly 200 concerts this year and this has been the most difficult to describe because it was so amazing.