Infinite Shuffle

October 9, 2011

CONCERT REVIEW: Rise Against and Flogging Molly

Filed under: Concert, F, R — assman41 @ 4:00 pm

When: October 4, 2011

Where: Thunder Bay (Ont.) Community Auditorium

Headliner: Rise Against

Opening act: Flogging Molly

It has become something of a tradition. Every time emo-punk band Rise Against put out a new album, my friend, Sean, and I invariably make our way to one of their shows.

It started in 2007 while the Chicago-based crew was still touring on the heels of their album, The Sufferer & The Witness. Sean and I were working at a newspaper in Central Virginia at the time, and we decided to make the trek to Norfolk to see the  group. It was definitely a solid outing.

A couple of years later, just days before Thanksgiving 2009, Sean and I met in Detroit to see the band play new stuff from Appeal To Reason. Rise Against headlined a show that included The Gaslight Anthem, Alkaline Trio and Thrice, and it absolutely rocked. For a while, that was my favorite concert-going experience.

Fast-forward to last week. Sean just returned to the States after a six-month stint in Jamaica. The last time I had seen him was when we went on our epic SXSW trip. The way the timing worked out, Rise Against was just wrapping up their tour for the album, Endgame, and the only date that worked out logistically was their show in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

I’d picked up my first passport earlier this year, so I was more than happy to break it in. Sean set out from NYC on Sunday and made the 12-plus-hour trip to South Bend. Then we embarked on our jaunt early Monday morning. The plan was to hang out with a friend in Milwaukee and crash in Duluth that night, head to Canada on Tuesday for the show, then make our way back to Milwaukee on Wednesday night.

I’ll skip all the minutiae, and just mention the highlights of  the trip before delving into the concert itself:

  • Meeting our friend, Audrey, for lunch in The Kee and walking around the grounds of UW-Milwaukee.
  • Stopping off in Osseo, Wis., at Norske Nook Kaffe Hus and sharing four of the most amazing slices of pie I’ve ever had.
  • Enjoying a tasty Oktoberfest meal (complete with proper brews) at Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth.
  • Hiking along the shore and taking some amazing photos at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park near Two Harbors, Minn.
  • Eating some awesome Havian BBQ Chicken pizza at Sven & Ole’s in Grand Marais, Minn.
  • Walking around the quaint and bucolic downtown of Grand Marais.
  • Driving through the Canadian countryside before sunset, marveling at the foliage and mountains.
  • Realizing Ontario is on Eastern time and racing to find the concert venue.
  • Rocking out to Flogging Molly and Rise Against.
  • Stopping at a convenience store in Thunder Bay and smirking at all the subtle Canadian differences.
  • Being detained at the border because the officers couldn’t understand why we traveled to Canada for a rock show.
  • Stopping at a beef jerky factory outlet store in Minong, Wis., for several packages of jerky and a few packs of tasty Madison-brewed beverages.
  • A return trip to Norske Nook for four more amazing slices of pie.
  • A frenzied search for a cooler large enough to keep a banana cream pie cold for a few hours.
  • A home-cooked dinner at Audrey’s followed by some bluegrass music and tasty brews at a neighborhood bar in The Kee.
  • Skipping breakfast and holding out until we reached Portillo’s for lunch Thursday before returning to South Bend.

Now, back to the concert itself.

As I mentioned above, we were running late for the show and had no idea where the venue was located. My smart phone turned pretty dumb after crossing the border and I was unable to look up anything on a map.

Thankfully, we didn’t care at all about the opening act — Black Pacific — because we eventually found the place and walked in at about 8 p.m., just as the second act, Flogging Molly was taking the stage. They immediately tore into their most popular tune, “Drunken Lullabies”, as Sean and I found our seats.

Yes, I said seats. The show was taking place at Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, which had nothing but seats and a small orchestra pit. Much to Sean’s chagrin, we were not allowed access to the pit and were forced to thrash about in the small space between the rows of seats.

It was not ideal, but we made do.

I had never seen Flogging Molly before, but they absolutely killed it. There was just something totally badass about seeing six seasoned musicians lined up across the stage in front of the drummer, rocking out on their instruments. The way the were dressed to the nines and how expertly they played, they just looked like some sort of all-star team whose sole purpose was to rock my socks off.

Mission accomplished.

To be honest, even though I only recognized a few of their songs, I think I might have had more fun watching Flogging Molly than I did the headliners. That’s nothing against Rise Against, but I’d already seen them a couple of times, so I guess the novelty has worn off a bit.

That being said, Rise Against still definitely brought it. I was jumping up and down within minutes and zeroed in on the band for the entire show. I will admit that I have a few critiques with the setlist.

They played 16 songs, followed by a three-song encore. After they set the place on fire with “Prayer of the Refugee”, they slowed things down with “Swing Life Away” and “Hero of War”.

During the latter, frontman Tim McIlrath had a string break on his acoustic guitar, which took a few minutes to fix.

So, after that extended period of tameness, they followed it with a medium-paced song, “Audience of One”, which ended up creating this long lull in the show. They only had one song, “Architects” before closing out the set with “Ready To Fall”. Normally, the place would be shaking at that point, but because of that lull — not to mention the confining seats — the crowd wasn’t as lively as it could have been.

The encore was average. They did play “Give It All”, which is one of Sean’s favorites, but they played it second and closed with “Savior”. I would’ve closed with a hit to send the crowd out on as high a note as possible.

But these are minor nitpicks. I still enjoyed the show immensely and can’t wait for the next album — and, of course, the ensuing tour.

May 9, 2010

Outroversion threeplay #2

Filed under: F, NYC, Outroversion, Sweden, U — assman41 @ 6:01 am

Despite having not checked out the website as much lately, the Outroversion blog is still a gold mine for great new music. Here are three more bands I discovered through the site, including one I probably would rather not have.

UUVVWWZ

This band has pretentious written all over it. The first time I heard UUVVWWZ (pronounced “Double U … Double V … Double W … Z”), I thought it sounded like Belle & Sebastian or Stereolab fronted by a riot grrl. On second listen, it’s probably closer to Deerhoof, which, as far as I’m concerned, is not a good thing.

On its self-titled debut album that came out in July 2009, the band alternates between misguided and annoying. Lead singer Teal Gardner keeps getting in her own way. She and the band have the potential to make some decent music, but instead, she sings grating, bratty vocals over instruments that seem to have no clear path.

But to prove that listening to this album more than once wasn’t a total waste of time, I did sorta like the opening track.

UUVVWWZ – Berry Can

Fine Arts Showcase

One of many bands fronted by Gustaf Kjellvander, this Swedish outfit is unabashedly a post-punk band, through and through.

With Kjellvander channeling the vocal stylings of Ian Curtis and Peter Murphy, The Fine Arts Showcase encapsulate all the best qualities of the early goth sound — including the deep, haunting vocals and the heavy synth beats.

Formed in 2003, the band has churned out four full-length albums, most recently of which was last year’s Dolophine Smile.

Their whole catalog is pretty strong, but these are the first two songs I heard through the Outroversion blog, and they’re still my favorites, by far.

The Fine Arts Showcase – Chemical Girl

Freelance Whales

Of the three bands reviewed in this post, Freelance Whales is the only one I’ve seen mentioned by other sources. The New York City group experimented with a hodgepodge of instruments on this year’s debut album, Weathervanes, and in the end, produced a sound that conjured up Postal Service and Owl City.

What those two acts have in common is that one is a Ben Gibbard side project and the other just sounds like one. Freelance Whales falls into the latter category, creating an alternate universe in which Mr. Gibbard has taken up new instruments, such as the banjo, xylophone and tambourine.

This group is a definite must for anybody who’s still waiting on that never-gonna-happen Postal Service follow-up.

Freelance Whales – Starring

April 11, 2010

23 – Frightened Rabbit

Filed under: F, Scotland — assman41 @ 12:01 am

My first two memories of the band Frightened Rabbit both occurred while sitting at my desk at work a couple years ago. The first came while I was listening to my old, portable XM player and the song “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” came on. I immediately liked it and took note of the band who sang it.

Then, within a day or two — it might’ve actually been later that night — a friend called and mentioned wanting to see the band in concert. Even though I’d only heard the one song, I figured it was all a sign that I needed to go to the show.

I saw them at Double Door in Chicago — my friend actually had to miss the show, but I was accompanied by a couple lady friends, so it was his loss. They opened for French Kicks, but in my mind, Frightened Rabbit was the best band on the bill. I ended up picking up a signed copy of the group’s debut album, Sing the Greys, to go along with my then-recently burned copy of their follow-up, The Midnight Organ Fight.

Frightened Rabbit released its third album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, last month, and it’s a continuation of their signature fast-slow, soul-baring Scottish rock.

I recently began listening to Pandora.com, and a common song element I’ve seen is “repetitive melodic phrasing.” That’s a pretty apt description of Frightened Rabbit’s tunes. Their entire catalog is full of songs that seem to have been written with the soul purpose of getting the choruses stuck in your head.

According to Pandora, similar artists include Band of Horses, The Decemberists, The Shins and Modest Mouse — so you can see why I like them so much. But, personally, I think they sound most like one of their Scottish brethren, Twilight Sad.

Here’s how Heather Phares of All Music Guide describes the band on Pandora:

With each release, Frightened Rabbit’’s music grows by leaps and bounds: they offered humble, moody folk-pop on Sing the Greys, which they expanded into searching rock on Midnight Organ Fight. On Winter of Mixed Drinks, they focus and polish Organ Fight‘’s epics — and add a healthy dose of optimism.

It’s clear that I don’t have that polished of an ear. My critique of Frightened Rabbit is that it seems like they only have about two or three songs in their repertoire, and they’ve just kept repeating them over three albums now. But it’s tough to hate on the band, because any time I play their music, any contempt I may have quickly melts away.

Head over to their MySpace page and listen to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”, their catchy first single off Mixed Drinks. They have a few other songs there for your perusal.

As for me, the song that first introduced me to the band is still my favorite …

Frightened Rabbit – Good Arms vs. Bad Arms

February 7, 2010

Outroversion threeplay #1

Filed under: England, F, NYC, Outroversion, Sweden, T — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Shortly after beginning this blog, I stumbled upon Outroversion, and it quickly became my go-to music blog — especially for stuff from across the pond.

I have since downloaded many an album and track from the site, most of which I haven’t even listened to yet. But during a recent trip home, I had plenty of time to finally delve into my iPod, and here are three solid acts that I probably never would’ve discovered if it weren’t for Simon’s offerings.

Frank Turner

I wasn’t sure of the best way to describe Turner. But then I saw on his Wikipedia page that his music falls into the “folk/punk” category. While those two genres seem pretty disparate, that’s actually a perfect description of the sound on his third and most recent album, Poetry of the Deed.

The first couple songs, he’s sort of introducing himself before he seems to find his rhythm. From Track 3 on, I was reminded of Dexter Holland’s vocals from The Offspring’s single a few years ago, “Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?” It’s fitting since Turner considers The Offspring a huge influence and toured with them throughout Europe in 2009.

His songs have a lot of Irish trad/punk/rock vibes, so it’s no surprise he also recently toured with Flogging Molly.

Here’s one of his least punkish songs …

Frank Turner – Sunday Nights

First Aid Kit

The only comparison that really came to mind while listening to this Swedish duo’s Drunken Trees EP was Joanna Newsom fronting the Fleet Foxes. Coincidentally, one of the singers is named Johanna and they cover a Fleet Foxes song on the disc.

Considering my annoyance with Ms. Newsom, that might sound like something of an insult, but it actually works here. Sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg don’t go off into a bunch of crazy-sound-filled vocal solos. They stick to the music and we’re all the better for it.

They just released their first full-length album, The Big Black & The Blue, in late January.

Here’s the song that first got them noticed by Swedish radio stations …

First Aid Kit – Tangerine

fun.

Of the three bands listed here, fun. is the only one I’ve actually seen other music bloggers mention as well.

The trio from New York City has a solid pedigree and is something of a supergroup. fun. formed when Nate Ruess’s band The Format split up and he joined forces with Andrew Dost (Anathallo) and Jack Antonoff (Steel Train) in early 2008.

After listening to the band’s debut album, Aim and Ignite, the only thing I could think of was Mika — for those of you not familiar with him, imagine Freddie Mercury at his most flamboyant.

But upon listening to the disc again, I realized fun. has a pretty full, robust sound, with all three members making notable contributions.

They seem to be at their strongest and most theatrical on this single …

fun. – All the Pretty Girls

January 17, 2010

12 – Fanfarlo

Filed under: England, F — assman41 @ 12:01 am

As everyone started churning out their various Best of 2009 lists, I recognized the bulk of what was being mentioned. But there was one band that caught my eye that I’d never heard of before — Fanfarlo.

I think I first started hearing whispers about this London sextet around November or so, but I didn’t know much about them and basically wrote them off. Then their debut album, Reservoir, started popping up on the various year-end lists — one of my favorite music bloggers tabbed it as his favorite of the year, while another trusted source had it in his top 10 — so I was forced to take notice.

When I first started playing it, I wasn’t really blown away, but I didn’t dislike it either. As the disc went on, it grew on me.

The second listen really solidified it for me, and by the third go-around, I was sold.

As both of the aforementioned bloggers noted, there is an unmistakable Arcade Fire influence here, but it’s tamer — in a good way — and all the rough edges are smoothed out. To a lesser degree, Fanfarlo has a Beirut vibe going on as well, but it comes across more accessibly here.

This album didn’t drop in the States until late September, so I don’t feel so bad that it took me a couple months to discover it. But I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for their follow-up.

Between their MySpace page and their official website, you can hear seven of the 11 tracks on this album, plus a bonus track. An added treat on their MySpace page is the video clips of Fanfarlo covering such acts as Neutral Milk Hotel, Smashing Pumpkins and Bonnie Prince Billy.

I don’t really have a favorite song at this point, and since there are so many tracks available elsewhere, I figured I’d post one that wasn’t on another site.

Fanfarlo – Fire Escape

December 27, 2009

9 – Forward, Russia!

Filed under: England, F — assman41 @ 12:01 am

On their debut album, Forward, Russia! sounds like a mixture between the Arctic Monkeys and the Hives but with the vocal stylings of Bloc Party.

Early in their career, Forward, Russia! thought it was a good idea to name songs with numbers, in the order they were written. So, that first album, Give Me a Wall, has 11 tracks, opening with “Thirteen,” closing with “Eleven” and ranging from “Seven” to “Nineteen” in the interim.

Because of this, it’s rather difficult to keep the various tracks straight, but I know it starts off strong with “Thirteen” and “Twelve.” Things take a bit of a turn toward The Killers and White Lies on “Nineteen,” the album’s fifth track.

On their MySpace page, these lads from Leeds categorize themselves as “experimental/indie.” That becomes evident as Give Me a Wall progresses through various spurts of thumping, yelling and chanting. On their Wikipedia page, one of the band members is even listed as “electric guitar, shouts, synth.” But it all seems to work pretty well and never crosses the line into unaccessible. If you end up giving this disc a listen, just a warning, the ninth track, “Seven,” may get stuck in your head for a couple days.

On their follow-up album, 2008’s Life Processes, Forward, Russia! follows the path of the aforementioned Bloc Party. They become slower, heavier and deeper as their sound grows more akin to TV on the Radio.

I only just recently listened to this album for the first time, so I don’t have a lot to say about it. But it seems pretty solid, and I’ll be interested to see where they go from here.

Unfortunately, it might be awhile before we find out, as they’re apparently on hiatus, according to their official website.

Below is the first song from their debut album. Hopefully, it gives you a pretty good idea of what this band is all about and why I loved this disc so much.

Forward, Russia! – Thirteen

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