Posted in audiObelisk on August 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
There’s a few in this latest batch of Roadburn 2012 audio streams that I’ve really been looking forward to hearing. I stood and watched their whole set, but Mars Red Sky played a new song at the festival and I’d like to get another glimpse of what might be in store on their next album, and acts I didn’t get to see like Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Black Tusk should be fun to check out. Thanks as always to Walter, Jurgen, Marcel van de Vondervoort and the entire Roadburn crew. Hope you have as much fun as I do with these:
Posted in Reviews on July 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve never encountered a city I’ve wanted to live in as much as I want to live in Philadelphia. This time, as The Patient Mrs. and I sat at the bar Abbaye and I ate a cheesesteak marinated in Chimay beer with roasted garlic aioli and drank a Yards IPA from a cask, the thought seemed even less realistic — like if we tried to get a place there, Philly itself would catch on and bar my entry. A pipe dream. Among many.
We headed down early to catch YOB frontman Mike Scheidt and U.S. Christmas frontman Nate Hall at Kung Fu Necktie. The Patient Mrs. coming out for a show is a rarity, on a Sunday especially, but it being a mostly acoustic night and it being Philadelphia — for which I think it’s safe to say she at least in part shares my affection — I was able to persuade. Hall and Scheidt had been in Brooklyn the night prior, but as I was at the Brighton for Halfway to Gone, I’d been unable to attend, though I knew from reading SabbathJeff‘s review on the forum that it was an early evening. That took some of the edge off the two-hour drive to get there.
It was just the two of them on the bill, so when I got to Kung Fu Necktie a bit before 8PM, I was early. Hall would go on first, at 9, and Scheidt would follow at about 9:35. They’d be done by 10:30, because at 11PM, a DJ was coming in for a late set. I guess that kind of thing happens. The Patient Mrs. and I sat at the bar and had a couple expertly-poured Boddingtons and enjoyed the dulcet freneticism of King Crimson over the Kung Fu Necktie P.A. The course of the evening would not be nearly as restless.
I’ve made no secret through the years of not being a fan of U.S. Christmas. Some bands just don’t click for some people, and it seems like no matter how much acclaim they get or however much on paper I should be so into them they could charge me rent, I remain stern in my position. I didn’t review last year’s The Valley Path and though it’s a friend putting it out, I’ll likely skip this year’s reissue of Bad Heart Bullas well. I’m sorry, but it’s not my job to like every band, and I’d sooner paint Williamsburg with my brains out the side of my skull than go back on something I’ve written without a genuine change of heart.
That said, earlier this year when I heard Nate Hall‘s solo debut, A Great River(on Neurot; track streaming here), I appreciated its sparseness and cohesiveness of atmosphere, and found Hall‘s ability to translate U.S. Christmas‘ ambient regionalism to a singer-songwriter context both impressive conceptually and an enjoyable listen. I liked it, to be clearer. And having liked it, I was looking forward to hearing how Hall would be able to bring those songs to life on stage. He did well.
Decked out in journeyman braids and a hat that, if you told me he’d stolen it from a museum I’d both believe you and be like, “awesome,” Hall ran through several of the tracks on A Great River. At times the reverb felt too heavy on his vocals — though that’s loyal to the sound of the album as well — but the a capella “When the Stars Begin to Fall” was nothing if not a bold inclusion, and he more than pulled it off, and “A Great River” was all the more powerful for the stripped-down, acoustic-only presentation it got, Hall‘s subdued, almost mumbled vocals sounding well within their rights to be tired beyond their years. He covered Townes van Zandt and brought Scheidt on for a song before closing out, and wrapped his short time on stage as unpretentiously as he’d started it, putting his guitar back in the case with his name spraypainted on it and walking to the back of the venue to sell some merch.
Two chairs had been situated on the Kung Fu Necktie stage, and the mics were already in position — and hell, by the time Hall was done, Scheidt had already been on stage playing as well — so there was no real changeover or anything like that between sets. Nonetheless, a short break felt natural. Apparently Hammers of Misfortune and The Gates of Slumber were playing nearby with locals Wizard Eye opening, and that may have cut into the attendance some, but there were heads here and there and The Patient Mrs. went so far as to laughingly point out shortly before Scheidt went on that she wasn’t the only lady present. It was true, though I didn’t know whether to congratulate her or what.
I’m a lucky man.
Scheidt‘s solo debut, Stay Awake, was pretty close in my mind after reviewing it just last week, but he, on the other hand, seems to have already moved well beyond it. Where the prior two times I’ve seen him do sets apart from YOB (in Brooklyn and at Roadburn), he’s barely started before he’s announced his inexperience in the form, this time he sat down and said, “I’m gonna do a few different things here,” thanked the crowd and immediately opened with two finger-picked instrumentals, unrepentantly folksy, and in the case of the second — which he shouted out to the teacher who taught him the technique back in Oregon — joyful. The surprises didn’t stop there.
From the album, which came out last month, he played only two songs — “Until the End of Everything” and “Stay Awake” – and both of them he delivered with a clarity and confidence (would be hard to call it “swagger” in the context of psychedelic folk) that even two months prior simply wasn’t there. Straight-backed, he projected his vocals when he wanted to project them, or otherwise slouched, leaning on his guitar at a few points like it might be the only thing holding him up. The spoken part introducing “Until the End of Everything,” which I singled out in my review of the record, he positively nailed, and in a bit of tour camaraderie, he returned the favor paid him and brought Hall back on stage for a song as well.
That gave the show a bit of symmetry, sure, but their cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “Dead Flowers” — they nodded to Townes van Zandt‘s version, which some might recognize from the final moments of The Big Lebowski– made for a fitting and charming apex for the evening, with Scheidt‘s take on “Stay Awake” serving as the closer for his set and final affirmation of how well and how quickly he’s adapted to solo artistry. Not only did he perform the song well, or deliver the lines effectively, but he had a palpable sense of enjoyment while he did it. Heads nodded to the acoustic groove — his riffs are his riffs, after all; that’s a hard impulse to fight and everyone there seemed to decide not to fight it in unison — and he successfully conveyed the emotional dynamics at the heart of the song: Frustration, persistence, fatigue, persistence, in cycle and simultaneous.
I wished him safe travels and bought a copy of U.S. Christmas‘ Salt the Wound2012 reissue (I already had a physical copy of A Great River) and the Stay Awake CD from Hall before splitting. Sure enough, it was about 10:30. The Patient Mrs. and I were home by 12:15AM — which felt like the miracle work of a cosmos that wanted me to not be even more of a miserable bastard this entire week — and asleep no latter than I probably would’ve been anyway. Philly wins again. Philly always wins as far as I’m concerned. The show was even better than the cheesesteak, and for the evening, the company and the performance, a purer win than I’ve had in a while.
Posted in Reviews on July 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Much of the derisive end of the response I’ve seen to YOB frontman Mike Scheidt’s first solo outing — given the title Stay Awake and released last month via Thrill Jockey – seems to center around the simple point that, “This isn’t YOB.” This is true. One imagines that had the Eugene, Oregon, native wanted to follow-up YOB’s 2011 Atma full-length, no one would’ve argued. The quick turnaround would’ve been hailed near universally and it would’ve been a great way to continue the momentum from their run of shows opening for Tool and a way to mark their ascendancy as a touring act (new West Coast dates were just announced). Thinking about that, maybe part of the appeal of doing an album like Stay Awake for Scheidt is the purposeful defiance of that expectation, checking that forward push and not losing sight of a personal creative drive. I don’t know that to be the case, but it makes for easy conjecture. Most pivotally, what the album does is balance neo-folk intimacy with Scheidt’s own particular psychedelic lushness, and amid a slew of heavy/doom solo outings – this year alone has brought acoustic works from Nate Hall of U.S. Christmas and Scott Kelly, as well as Kelly’s three-way split with Wino and Neurosis bandmate Steve Von Till tribute to Townes Van Zandt – it’s the flourishes that work to distinguish what is by now a familiar form at its root. Couple that with Scheidt’s relative inexperience in the style – he has said on stage that he’s very new to it – and Stay Awake can’t help but be individualized, whatever aspects of others’ work it might draw on. Some Kelly influence is there, and the interplay of electric backing chords and acoustic picking that forms the musical basis of “Until the End of Everything” is something I tend always to attribute in my head to Ben Chasny’s Six Organs of Admittance or perhaps even Angels of Light, but Scheidt maintains his wavering melodic vocal delivery and puts it to use in a variety of constants on the six-track/43-minute Stay Awake, which was recorded by the venerable Tad Doyle at his Studio Witch Ape.
That it’s a genuine studio production would on paper seem to run counter to the album’s bedroom folk intimacy, but in terms of the actual sound of the record, it doesn’t. Whatever room space is added to the third cut, “In Your Light,” the solitary mood pervades, and that’s true from the gradual fade-in of opener “When Time Forgets Time,” which keeps Scheidt’s unique (though increasingly imitated) riff patterning despite the shift in context. Of all the songs on Stay Awake, the first is probably the closest he comes to YOB’s style, but he’s neither near it nor a stranger to straightforward opening tracks – see any of the last four YOB records – so don’t think I’m making a direct comparison. “When Time Forgets Time” does much to establish the overarching aesthetic, but little to set up the dynamics that play out over the course of the ensuing Stay Awake, fading out as it came as though we’ve just glimpsed a piece of a larger whole. The shift toward more radical experimentation first shows itself on “Until the End of Everything,” which dedicates the first 1:45 of its total 4:49 to a slow spoken word piece formed at least in part from the lyrics on which a breathy Scheidt reminds his listeners that “Reason has no place in this,” and “Until the end of everything/You will be loved.” The turn from the momentum of the first track might be set as an analogy for the album itself, but that spoken part also marks a misstep – not so much in concept or recording, but in execution – and it’s the moment on Stay Awake where Scheidt’s inexperience with singer-songwriter material feels most apparent. By the time his jarringly distorted electric guitar kicks in at 1:46, the words he’s saying feel forced and overperformed. The reason I say this relates to inexperience is because once the song starts and the lyrical cycle begins again, that’s not the case. “Until the End of Everything,” on which he backs himself vocally and touches on harmonies here and there, marks one of Stay Awake’s most effective arrangements and most lasting melodies. Even the feedback shortly before the four-minute mark and that fades back and forth through the last minute of the song feels purposeful and impeccably placed behind Scheidt’s soft picking. Really, it’s the pacing and, at the end, the drama in the spoken delivery that derails the beginning and forces the music to reclaim the momentum that “When Time Forgets Time” set into motion, which, thankfully, it does. (I’ll say here as well that in the two times I’ve seen Scheidt perform “Until the End of Everything” live, he’s delivered the spoken part quicker and more effectively.)