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Two Shows: Wild Flag and The Civil Wars [F]
Oct 26th, 2011 by Dan

I doubt that I could attend two more different shows than when I saw Wild Flag and The Civil Wars last week in DC. One was loud, raucous, and distorted while the other was quiet, pure, and crystal clear. Shockingly, given my predilection for loud, upbeat shows, I actually preferred The Civil Wars.

Wild Flag

I didn’t even know Black Cat had a second floor venue, but I guess that’s where the larger shows take place. Unfortunately it comes at the expense of the nicer bar downstairs and the intimacy of the smaller room. Wild Flag is just too big to play that room, I guess, but the upstairs room just feels colder and less fun (that could also be because I was right below an a/c vent).

Long ago I tried to get into Eleanor Friedberger because she was linked on NPR or somewhere else, but her music just didn’t resonate within me. I don’t know if it was just her older material or that I wasn’t listening to full tracks (Amazon previews and whatnot), but her songs were actually pretty solid performed live. Each one escalates as the song goes forward, adding more and more elements and embellishes. Sometimes it’s more subtle than others, but it’s usually there. While I would recommend a little more diversity in a song catalog, it makes for excellent concert music. I don’t think her set was cohesively strong, but on an individual song level I tended to find myself really getting into it about halfway through each song. Like I mentioned in my WIBD post, “Roosevelt Park” was my favorite track, mostly for that funky bass line and sound. It’s a genre that I have an extreme weakness for and it gets me every time.

Eleanor Friedberger

Definitely has a hipster look to her. I haven't seen jeans with a waistline that high since the 90s.

As for Wild Flag, it’s really a shame that the venue doesn’t quite highlight their sound. I don’t know if it was because I was too close, but every element was crashing over each other where they work more cohesively on the album. It seemed that Mary Timony thought so too, because she kept mentioning that she wanted something turned up. Vocals were mostly washed out by the hard guitars, but Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss’ harmonies usually shone through regardless. They also had some feedback issues that they had to work out (and mostly figured out by the end of the second or third song).

Carrie Brownstein Rocking Out

Carrie was totally into it.

It didn’t sound bad, but it didn’t sound as good as it could have and that’s disappointing because Wild Flag was kicking ass up there. I’ve never seen Mick Jagger move on stage, but every description I’ve ever heard of him came to mind as I watched Carrie Brownstein just own the stage. We’re talking some serious moves all while maintaining her delicious guitar playing. Both Carrie and Mary had this air of professionalism; that they’d been there before and they knew what they were doing so much that they could almost “show off” with their behind the back playing, windmills, and just general guitar artistry. They really owned that stage.

Carrie and Mary

Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein just rocking out.

Not enough has been said about Janet Weiss on drums, but her presence is the glue for the whole performance while Rebecca Cole’s keyboards were essential, but often masked by the overloud crunchy guitar work. The whole band was impressive and the setlist hopped around the album gracefully, only diverting from that course once to play two new songs. Both were impressive and harsher sounding than the mostly pretty sound on Wild Flag. It’ll be interesting to see how they wind up sounding when recorded.

The encore set consisted of covers that I wasn’t into (I don’t dig the Ramones and I’ve never heard of Television, sorry), but were performed with the necessary aplomb. It was a great set that I’m glad I went to, even if the sound issues were a little disappointing.

The Civil Wars

I’m not a fan of shows where you have sit down, assigned seats. There’s an inverse relationship (it’s not quite linear, but I don’t know if I’d say it was quadratic (and definitely not exponential) between how close to the stage you are and how much “soul” or “force” a performance has for me. Sit too far away and it’s just a sterile experience. My seats in the Lincoln Theatre were in the balcony, pretty far removed from the stage. I was worried.

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 004

This is the view from my seat. Definitely a little removed from the stage.

Milo Greene came out and did their remarkably short set. The band itself is large (five members) with anywhere from two to four of those band members playing a guitar of some sort on each song. It results in a layered, complex musical sound that contrasts heavily to The Civil Wars, but it lacked the energy that five young musicians should give the band. Granted, that could have been my seat position, but I know that their closing number far eclipsed the rest of their songs and made me think that I wasn’t just imagining the energy problem. Then again, maybe it was just excitement for The Civil Wars.

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 009

It's a very busy band. Good sound, though.

In any case, they were fun, even if they have to work on their stage banter. Friedberger’s was almost non-existent and Wild Flag kept it short (but great) while Milo Greene kind of floundered up there (made worse by the fact that The Civil Wars have unbelievable stage chemistry and amazing banter). They were solid openers and I liked their music, even though I’d say that the standing O some audiences decided to bestow was…well…overkill.

Then again, The Civil Wars destroyed my illusions about distance and involvement. Those two have an uncanny ability to put an audience under their spell. The best word to describe us during their songs would be rapt. Being an acoustic duo, John Paul and Joy’s production is spartan, which highlights how much the audience is completely drawn in. Every pause or moment of silence was so complete that you could have heard a pin drop. During one such silence I found myself annoyed by a man several rows up chewing something crunchy. It was surreal and amazing.

Like I said before, Joy and John Paul have such lovely chemistry that it’s almost unbelievable that they’re not a couple. They must have unbelievably understanding/trusting significant others to trust that the stage chemistry is just that. It’s smoldering sometimes. Joy is playful, cute, and sexy while JP is an “Aw, shucks” type of cowboy with a tiny sarcastic streak. It just works. When you throw Joy and JP’s fantastic voices into the mix you have alchemized pure gold, my friend.

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 022

They are just so beautiful on stage!

The duo hit every song of theirs I love and really brought down the house with a whisper rather than a bang. It was one of the most special shows I ever attended and I honestly did not expect it. Next time they’re in town I’m definitely buying tickets again.

What I’m Watching [IB]
Feb 17th, 2011 by Dan

Japanese TV

Been a while since I’ve talked about the tv I’m watching. Here’s a breakdown:

Justified

Based on novels and a short story by Elmore Leonard, Justified is about to enter its second season. I’m catching up on S1 and I gotta say I’m a huge fan of US Marshal Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) and the crime landscape of Eastern Kentucky. It’s definitely worth tuning into.

Party Down

I’m tuning into this one a bit too late, but this canceled Rob Thomas show about failed actors working in a catering business is reliably funny enough for me to keep watching on Netflix instant. Rob Thomas’ other critically acclaimed canceled show, Veronica Mars, lends many guest stars to Party Down and it’s both hilarious and bizarre to see them in such different roles.

Episodes

It’s been a long while since Matt LeBlanc was on TV. Joey was a pretty short lived failure, which I’m sure contributed to Matt LeBlanc’s lack of work, but he’s back and doing remarkably excellent work on Episodes. If you watched the second season of Extras, you should be somewhat familiar with the whole “network ruining our smart show” concept, but the real beauty of this show is the way Matt LeBlanc plays, well, Matt LeBlanc. The other characters in the show initially give him very little credit, but his sneaky, behind-the-scenes machinations are actually quite intelligent and I’m eager to see how this show ends now that we’ve caught up with the media res introduction of the first episode.

Shameless

Did you know this was based on an English show? I guess it makes sense. First episode was pretty good. I don’t have much more to say on the topic, but I plan to keep watching.

Portlandia

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armison are the brains (and primary actors) behind this sketch comedy analysis of Portland, the city where the dream of the 90s lives on. Some of the sketches are miss, but most are decent hits. I’m actually chuckling a little about the cacao sketch right now. I admit that I also take a little more out of it thanks to living two years of my life in a Portland suburb. Not gonna bust your sides, but worth a watch.

Archer

H. Jon Benjamin is the super secret agent Sterling Archer. It’s about as madcap and raunchy as you’d expect cable tv animated shows to be, but it’s also just funny enough to keep me tuning in each week. I think my enjoyment stems entirely from H. Jon Benjamin’s vocal work. He just knows how to voice a character.

Bob’s Burgers

Speaking of H. Jon Benjamin vocal roles, Bob’s Burgers couldn’t be more different from Archer, but is also as good or better thanks to Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal. All three combine to make a FOX animated show that is (thankfully) not a Family Guy knockoff. Last week’s capoeira episode was hilarious.

and the usual stuff:

Community

I don’t quite know where they’re going with this mini-Chevy Chase arc, but I’m not too fond of it. I think Pierce is the weakest character in the show and they’re going out of their way to make us hate him. Character death? God, I wish it were so. The ensemble doesn’t need him.

Glee

Season 2 just hasn’t lived up to Season 1. I blame the music. Too much pop culture, perhaps, and not enough classic rock and Broadway. Every time I think I might quit watching the show they go and wow me with something fantastic. Before the break it was the “Singin In The Rain/Umbrella” mash-up. Last week, amid the awful Justin Bieberfest, we got “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent. Just like that I’m back in.

Parks and Recreation

If you still think this show is The Office 2.0, you’re still wrong. Parks & Recs has matured into its own fantastic show and it’s firing on all cylinders. This past week I found myself literally guffawing at the episode. I think it might be my favorite comedy on television at the moment.

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