23 April 2006

The Dresden Dolls @ The Orpheum, 21 April

Missed the opener Porsches on the Autobahn, but Humanwine was very impressive. Holly's front act is a little too artificed for me, but behind the self-consciousness is a leonine, seductive presence that knows how to dance while singing (and given how many vocalists do this, it's still a bloody rare talent). Humanwine shares many of the same strengths as DD, which made them a particularly effective opener, but they're a strong band on their own.

The intervening theatrics between the openers and Dresden Dolls themselves--the sword swallower, the hula-hoop girl--are key to DD's atmosphere of "Brechtian punk cabaret." I knew this. I expected this. I still don't have any patience for it. The show's already long enough with two openers, and Humanwine (not to mention the block party outside) established the tone well enough not to need any theatrical badges of identity. Skip to the good stuff, already.

And The Dresden Dolls are the good stuff. Their theatrics are mostly (and rightly) limited to Amanda's voice and Brian's mime-drumming; everything else is in the music. Everybody in the audience knows "Coin-Operated Boy," and everybody in the audience knows the lyrics aren't what's sung on the CD. The jerky, powerful swing of songs like "Half Jack" is brilliant, even if bobbing or hopping is the only dancing it allows--there are plenty who take it up on that anyway.

Sia @ Paradise Rock Club, 19 April

The openers were weird. . . one called Dawn who seemed pretty bland, didn't have the voice to carry her songs, and definitely didn't have the performing chops to hold the audience's attention, and by far the weirder--Eagle & Talon. Are they fourteen? The drummer wasn't bad as a drummer, but both of their voices are sorely unmatured--how did they get onstage at Paradise?

Sia's voice, on the other hand, is the same pleasure as it is on her recorded stuff. She indulges in a little too much Vedder-style reverse-enunciation, and her stage presence has got to be on of the most annoying ever--but the music, it is solid. There's no extra energy in her live sets compared to her recorded sets, so it's not the extra-special treat that seeing some artists live is, but she also doesn't ruin her set with kooky theatrics like Feist did.

13 April 2006

Peter Mulvey @ Club Passim, 06 April

Peter Mulvey might have the funniest stage presence of anybody I've seen live, and he definitely has the unbelievable charisma of a movie star; and what's even more remarkable, he backs it up with the strength of his musicianship, which is considerable. His guitarwork is deft and complex, more than enough to fill Passim and stand on its own; the one instrumental number he did felt just as substantial as the vocal ones. Might've been a few too many straight political songs for my taste, but that's just my taste, and their lack of pretentiousness and attention to detail carried them even for me. NPR's story says he started as a subway busker, and I believe it; Passim mentioned in the program that he reads ceaselessly, and I believe that too. A better than common act to see live--he's a stronger, more luminous, more present performer when his audience is right in front of him, and it shows.

06 April 2006

Earworm: Ben Taylor - Digest

Has a lovely, rocking, bright-pebble flow to it, like a stream shallow enough to see the smooth pebbles at the bottom. I inevitably sing with this'n. (Streamable as part of NPR's All Songs Considered here.)

Neko Case @ The Roxy

Going to hear Neko was definitely not what I, as a good little grad student, shoulda been doing last night, but damn am I glad I did.

First off, I'd never been to The Roxy before. Aside from the lame-ass ads for Chippendale shows they apparently have, it is a cool, cool place. The layout is complex enough that you can find your own little corner that suits what you want to do (stand or sit or see or drink or dance), which makes for a nicer evening.

But Neko was way nicer. Her backing band was tight--Kelly's vocals were a remarkable fit as always, and the drummer (whose name I have forgotten) was noticeably brilliant on "The Dirty Knife," adding a palpable sense of threat and dread. I was happy when they did my favorite song off of Fox Confessor, "Star Witness" (streamable here), and the deft turns of melody there and on "That Teenage Feeling" were just as nimble live as in the studio recordings. Neko's a fun presence onstage, too, joking about how she missed a chord because she caught a whiff of her own tour funk.

I'll have to review her older CDs to be sure, but I think Fox Confessor is the next level for her--the songs are so elegant and dark, a little obscure but not nonsensical, and her sound is consistent and perfectly on target.

05 April 2006

Earworm: Neko Case - Star Witness

Hey when she sings
When she sings
When she sings like she runs
Moves like she runs
Hey when she moves
When she moves
When she moves like she runs
Moves like she runs
Hey there there's such dandy wolves
Round town tonight
Round the town tonight
Hey there there's such dandy wolves
Round town tonight
Round the town tonight

So lovely. And I'm going tonight--paper be damned!

03 April 2006

Sam Roberts Band / The Stills

This was a weird, weird show. First off, the Sam Roberts Band seems way too predicated on the two front-guys being good-looking--they are, but when that becomes the most salient feature of a band, there's a problem, and there was absolutely nothing in their set to distract from this. Very standard vaguely alt-rock stuff.

Now, The Stills. I'd liked Logic Will Break Your Heart Forever--it had a tight, enjoyable sound, and every now and then they hit on a smart line or two (from "Gender Bombs": the sordid way the loaded phrases infiltrate your skull), even if it is overall fairly light, generic stuff. Tim Fletcher's voice was skilled enough to carry it. But this show bloody bewildered me; apparently they've pushed Dave Hamelin up into a second lead vocal/guitarist position (if I've got the names of who did what on the first CD straight), and here's the catch: HE CAN'T SING! Started off the first four or five of his songs in the set painfully, painfully flat; it got better over the course of each song, but then started at ground zero again in the next one. What happened to this band that they're letting him sing? What happened to him that he sings like that? It was so bad we left after six or seven songs.