Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: O Giant Man's Everybody Knows I'm Just an Animal

It's Over. The Republic Tigers. namelessnumberheadman. Hidden Pictures. Fourth of July. Dri. Ghosty. Add another name to the list of excellent indie pop acts from Kansas City and Lawrence. The eight songs on Everybody Knows I'm Just an Animal , the debut recording by O Giant Man, are prime examples of radio-ready pop preeminence. It would be unfair to suggest that O Giant Man don't have a shot outside their home market. Fans of Death Cab For Cutie, MGMT, Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit would swoon over songs like "Animal," "July" and "Too Cold." The CD release show for Everybody Knows I'm Just an Animal is Saturday at Davey's Uptown.

Sometimes I tire of the volume. Seeing local rock bands night after night is great but it can be hard on the eardrums. The rare opportunity to hear guys like Brent Windler of Sons of Great Dane playing in a solo-acoustic format is most welcome. That's what Friday's Acoustic Prom at the Beaumont Club is all about. Here's the complete lineup: Waiting For Signal (Acoustic Set), Tyler Lyon (The Leo Project), Martin Bush (Audiovox, Salt The Earth, Paper Cities, A Burial At Sea), The Tide (The American Life), Mime Game (Josephine Collective, DTD), Brent Windler (Sons of Great Dane, John Nash, Casket Lottery), Root & Stem (Robots vs. Dinosaurs & Josephine Collective), Scott Eggleson (At The Left Hand of God) and The Coattail Effect (Life In Jersey, Sunday Blackout).

The JumboTron at Kaufman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals, plays Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places" every game. It's fun (I guess). Even so, it's incredibly refreshing to hear a snippet of Mudvayne's "Dig" as catcher Jason Kendall walks to the plate.

I was thrilled when I tuned in to a hipster's terrestrial radio show today and heard vintage Tavares. How silly of me! I soon realized he was actually spinning the new hit by Chromeo.

Here's an EPK for the new Charlie Haden and Keith Jarrett project. Jarrett's people skills issues are in full effect. (Tip to Peter Hum via Steve Paul.)

James Christos has combined forces with St. Louis' Nite Owl and DJ Sno to form Academy Hill. They perform May 7 at Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis.

Here's a trailer for a documentary about the travails of the Damnwells. The film just came out on DVD.

Kansas City Click: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony appear at the VooDoo Lounge on Thursday.

The Beaumont Club hosts the Acoustic Prom on Friday.

O Giant Man are joined by Holy Mountain, Giant Radio and Seafarer Saturday at Davey's Uptown.

I don't plan on driving to Knuckleheads on Sunday, but seeing Karla Bonoff standing on the roadhouse's stage would be surreal.

(Image pulled from the MySpace account of O Giant Man.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: The Flaming Lips and The Dead Weather at Sandstone

A Flaming Lips concert serves the same function for indie rockers as a Jimmy Buffett concert serves for stock brokers and soccer moms. That's right- the fearlessly freaky fans of the Flaming Lips are no different than Parrotheads. And I'm ok with that.

Tim Finn wrote a proper review of Friday's concert at Sandstone. A few of my dubious "insights" follow.

The Dead Weather: Evil and nasty, the Dead Weather offered the single best Led Zeppelin recreation I've ever heard. The band's recorded work doesn't even come close to capturing the genuinely scary sounds they emitted Friday.

Minus the Bear: What's the point of a jam band that can't bothered to jam?

White Rabbits: They sounded like high school marching band geeks covering the Feelies. That's a good thing.

On Saturday, Mac Lethal made the following vow: I officially declare, right now, that I, Mac Lethal, am going to cover "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus on my new album. Hey, Mac- I hope you do justice to my third-favorite song of 2009. Here are 24 additional ideas for your consideration.

I reviewed Christian McBride's concert Saturday.

Author and lyricist Gene Lees has died.

The new State Bird EP sounds like a hit. Listen for yourself at the Record Machine's blog.

Kansas City Click: "Hello!" P.i.L. appears Monday at the Midland.

Michael Pagan plays piano Tuesday at Cafe Trio.

(Original images of the Flaming Lips by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Beama's Papuh Uh Plastik

Beama- "Trying To Do Right" (video at YouTube)


The Kansas side of Kansas City is too often overlooked in discussions of the area's hip hop scene.

Beama might be the artist to finally put an end to that snub. Based on the high quality of his "Trying To Do Right" video, he clearly has the necessary financing to make it happen. (And for what it's worth, he's also getting 20,000 daily MySpace plays.)

Talk about money dominates his new mixtape Papuh Uh Plastik. It's a wildly inconsistent collection of gangsta rap. The generic production and far too many song snippets drag down much of the project. Even so, Ron Ron's solid contributions to "Soundz of a Dope Deala" and "Touch White" make the disc a must-hear for aficionados of the Kansas City scene. Yung Fate, an apparent Ron Ron protege, also does a good job imitating his mentor.

I feel like a fool for having paid full price for what's essentially a demo. That doesn't mean, however, that I won't be rooting for Beama to put Kansas City, Kansas, on the map.

Phoenix lived up to the hype. Here's my review of Wednesday's show.

Austin has the Gourds. Springfield, Missouri, has Big Smith. I was delighted to see this essay about the band at KC Free Press.

I shudder to think that I can be as big of a geek as Christopher R. Weingarten. Still, I concur with almost all of his damning assertions in this commentary.

I've witnessed a handful of memorable onstage meltdowns but I don't think I've ever been present for anything quite as excruciating as Sly Stone's stunning fail at Coachella.

Cheers to NPR for addressing Iranian oppression in today's feature about the No One Knows About Persian Cats documentary.

Kansas City Click: The Flaming Lips touch down at Sandstone on Friday.

Young bachata band XTreme hits Memorial Hall on Friday.

Logan Richardson returns to the Record Bar on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: Lupe Fiasco, S-Preme and Les Izmore at The Midland

If you'd like to read a proper review of Sunday's Steppin' Laser concert, I recommend my friend Joel Francis' account of the proceedings. The Pitch also covered the show and offers excellent photos. My notes follow.

I wasn't terribly impressed with Lupe Fiasco's outing. I was riveted, however, by the energy emitted by his 600 fans at the Midland. If I ranked concerts by the quality of the audience, Sunday's event would almost certainly place in my year-end top five.

Much of Fiasco's set sounded uncomfortably like Linkin Park. I longed for some of the iciness contained on Fiasco's 2007 album The Cool but I kept getting reminded of "Numb" instead.

I was miffed at B.o.B. for dropping off Fiasco's tour for a day so that he could appear at Coachella. (Here's fan footage.) Just because you have a hit record with Paramore's Hayley Williams doesn't make it acceptable to blow off Kansas City. And why goof around with a small-time blogger when There Stands the Glass has been on you for years?

Consequently, I was down on Chicago hopeful S-Preme even before he started. S-Preme looked and sounded a lot like Drake. That's not a complement coming from me.

The night's real star was Les Izmore. In just thirty minutes, he led the crowd in a few rounds of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," clowned with fellow Soul Provider Dutch Newman, got serious with D/Will, freestyled and led a pared-down version of his Fela-inspired band Hearts of Darkness. Very impressive.

I was still trying to organize a road trip to St. Louis to see Nigerian juju star King Sunny Ade when I learned that the tour had been canceled due to a tragic accident. Details are here. (Tip via R.G. and L.I.)

I lose respect for artists who feel compelled to publicly "celebrate" April 20. Please stop embarrassing yourselves.

A new BBC feature on Wanda Jackson made me smile.

More than once I've attempted to get hip hop heads to share my love of jazz by playing them Gang Starr and Guru albums. It never worked. Guru died yesterday.

Kansas City Click: Howard Iceberg, Ben Summers and Gary Cloud play Tuesday's early show at Davey's Uptown.

Phoenix headline at the Uptown Theater on Wednesday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Mike Metheny's 60.1

I may never forgive Mike Metheny for making my life a living hell.

The opening track of 60.1, his new album, may be the most infuriating earworm I've ever encountered. It's as if the tormented ghost of Raymond Scott had assumed control of the USC Marching Trojans.

The deliberately annoying march has taken up unwelcome residency in my cranium for the past two weeks. Metheny named the piece "Dubious Melody," but "Crime Against Humanity" would be be a more appropriate title.

It takes enormous talent to be so maliciously awful. At this late date, jazz fans could be forgiven for failing to remember that Metheny was once a major label recording artist and had served as a faculty member at Boston's Berklee College of Music. While Metheny has returned to Missouri and jazz's fortunes have waned, Metheny's prodigious musical gifts have not diminished.

The evil "Dubious Melody" aside, Metheny uses his genius for good on 60.1.

Propelled by drummer Brandon Draper, the title track is absolutely savage. It demonstrates that Metheny is still capable of making a righteous racket that can challenge the testosterone levels of even the most manly fans of Medeski Martin & Wood and The Bad Plus.

"60.1" and a couple additional noisy numbers make the album's relatively conventional mainstream tracks seem tame. It would be a shame, however, to overlook Metheny's gorgeous playing on the Bill Evans ballad "Laurie" and the fine Bob Bowman solo on "C.C. & Water." Other Kansas City-based artists on the album include pianists Paul Smith and Roger Wilder and guitarist Danny Embrey.

Metheny demurred when I asked for permission to post a track. All ten selections are different, he suggested, and hearing only one piece would be inherently misleading. There's some truth to that. Even so, the entirety of 60.1 s characterized by Metheny's artistic restlessness, adventurous spirit and stupendous musicality.

Just don't listen to that first track.

Ani DiFranco's concert Friday was kind of a drag. Great pictures accompany my review.

As my review suggests, the Clayton Brothers exceeded my expectations Saturday at the Gem Theater.

The new Terje Rypdal is a prog-meets-big band freak-out. Listen, if you dare, here.

"I just can't sympathize with your rock and roll problems." Stream the new Hold Steady album at NPR. (Tip via S.S.)

Kansas City Click: The Kansas City Bear Fighters and Grisly Hand perform Monday at the Record Bar.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Noah Earle- The Sky's On Fire

I've removed this label-approved MP3 due to recent actions taken by Google/DMCA.

The intentionally distressed cover art of Noah Earle's This Is the Jubilee is perfect. The new release looks and sounds old, as if it's been sliding around on the floor mat of car alongside classic '70s albums by Paul Simon and James Taylor.

The prospect of listening to a folkie inspired by Still Crazy After All These Years and Sweet Baby James would ordinarily compel me to key a Mercedes. The many charms of This Is the Jubilee, however, have completely won me over. Even the end of earth, for instance, sounds jaunty on "The Sky's On Fire."

I love this album.

While his contemporary peers are the likes of Amos Lee, Ray LaMontagne and Alexi Murdoch, the Missouri boy is unique. Earle is so earthy that he makes LaMontagne's anti-celebrity seem like TMZ material. This live version of the album's opening track is indicative of Earle's homespun charm.

I reviewed the outstanding triple bill of Heartless Bastards, Bleach Bloodz and Sons of Great Dane last week.

Jazz drummer Steve Reid has died.

The latest free label sampler from The Record Machine includes songs from Cowboy Indian Bear and Sam Billen.

Joel Francis caught up with Greg Ginn.

I had to pull over when I heard Michael Maniaci sing this piece by Mozart yesterday. I only comprehended what I had experienced when it was back-announced by the classical DJ.

Kansas City Click: Killah Priest and Blueprint play the Riot Room on Tuesday.

Nathan Granner completes a two-night stand at Jardine's on Wednesday. He croons "Shenandoah" with country band RiverRock in this unlikely collaboration.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Review: Sliccs Gotcha's Bringin The 90's Back

It saddens me that Sliccs Gotcha's new posthumous album isn't very good. I suppose it would have been no less tragic had Bringin' The 90's Back been brilliant.

As I wrote here, the rapper was murdered on the streets of Kansas City in February. My post generated a mean-spirited discussion at Crime Scene KC. That's to be expected. It sickens me, however, that the crime remains unsolved.

Mediocre and largely forgettable, the album lacks anything as undeniably immediate as 2008's "Off the Chain." The world-weary self-assessment of "When I Close My Eyes" is the only track I enjoy. Perhaps it's because the usual gangster braggadocio that dominates the rest of the album makes me cringe.

It would be easy to quote Sliccs boasting about the sordid details of "the game" that apparently led to his demise. I just don't have the heart to do it.

I'm also not impressed by the post-Fat Tone sound that's typical of most titles issued by Rich the Factor's Major Factor Records. It's distressing that Phil Collins is sampled on "Nowhere To Run" and Drake, unfortunately, is also mixed into a couple tracks.

This video tribute serves as a better memorial to Sliccs' legacy than does Bringin' The 90s's Back.

We miss you, Sliccs.

Yeah, I'm a fan. Here's my review of Karrin Allyson's second set last night at Jardine's.

Travis O'Guin of Strange Music complains about his distributor in a fascinating interview.

Omaha's Luigi Waites has died.

Although I didn't like Malcolm McLaren, I always admired his gumption. He died April 8.

Kansas City Click: George Strait will play my favorite song of 2009 Friday at the Sprint Center.

Mixed Method and Hominid perform at Jardine's on Saturday. I previewed the show here.

AC/DC's return to the Sprint Center trumps everything else going on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Review: V.V. Brown at the Record Bar

What is it about today's female British retro-soul singers? It makes no sense that so many young women from Britain interpret American music so compellingly.

I was reminded of this oddity as V.V. Brown thrilled me Easter evening at the Record Bar.

Brown is a star. I expect that she'll be more popular than both Duffy and Estelle by July. Brown can't sing as well as Adele or Joss Stone but she shares a sharp street sensibility with The Pipettes and Amy Winehouse.

The first sign that Brown was something special came when the doorman informed me that she was carrying a three-piece band. Sure, they employed some backing tracks, but the show was at least 75% live. They performed credible versions of rockabilly, Afro-Beat, Bow Wow Wow/Adam Ant-esque faux funk, new jack swing, old-school soul and one massive pop hit. And I was very pleased that she didn't let the the audience size (about 65 people were in the room) impact her theatrical effort. But it was when she covered Drake's "Best I Ever Had" that I fell in love. I truly detest the song, but Brown transformed it into a personal anthem. She just may be, as the deplorable Drake puts it, "the best."

Opening act Thee Water Moccasins evoke moody "new wave" acts like Bauhaus, Echo & the Bunnymen and Wire. I'll confess to having been more than a little distracted as they played. The band was accompanied by two athletic dancers who expertly contorted themselves in sheets hung from the ceiling.

I wish something would have diverted my attention from the headlining set by Little Dragon. (Photo below.) The Swedish collective's recordings, reminiscent of the Cardigans, show that they're a wonderful pop band in the studio. As a live act, however, they're totally whack.

A professional photographer managed to capture some of Brown's charm on behalf of the Pitch.

I reviewed Raul Malo's concert at Knuckleheads on Friday and critiqued Junior Mance's appearance Saturday at the Blue Room.

Jazz pianist John Bunch died March 30.

Sacrilege! Elvis Presley's Sun Sessions is out of print.

Kansas City Click: Greg Ginn plays punk-jazz Tuesday at the Record Bar.

(Original images by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, April 05, 2010

Mixed Method: The There Stands the Glass Interview

(The entire five song Mixed Method EP is available as a free download here.

Maybe I've been making everything too complicated. Instead of worrying about what qualifies as jazz, perhaps I should embrace the notion that any act booked at a jazz club is, by definition, a jazz act. Mixed Method perform at Jardine's on Saturday, April 10. An email interview I conducted with the quintet follows.

Plastic Sax: Your music seems like equal parts jazz, electronica and progressive rock. Is that a fair characterization? How would you describe your sound?

Mike Malaker: That's a good description, but you might throw in dub, funk and Afro-Caribbean into the mix as well. I'm sure there are others. We are all about combining our influences into new forms.

Ryan Nilson: Yes that description sounds pretty fair. Our sound is really just a mix of what we listen to and like. Sometimes this eclectic influence works and sometimes it does not. There are times when we all are like "yeah, this is awesome" and other times we are thinking "what are we doing?"

J Witzgall: Well, there are a slew of European bands, Jaga Jazzist, Sayag Jazz Machine and others that mix electronica with Jazz and rock. We have a similar sound. In the beginning, we went for a little harder electronica sound. Not having a drummer and using mostly breakbeats pushed us closer in that direction. Now with a drummer, we are able to sound much more like our other influences, spilling over into John Scofield-ish funk and prog rock/math rock stuff among others.

PS: I detect a King Crimson influence in your sound. Am I crazy?

RN: I don’t listen to King Crimson.

MM: That's interesting. They are one of my early influences, though I never consciously thought of them as part of this band's sound.

JW: When I was a kid, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, Robert Fripp had just started the Guitar Craft workshops in an old school/monastery for the Gurdjieff philosophy that Fripp was into at the time, so we went out to see the first Crafty Guitarists concert, and we went and talked to Fripp, and one of my friends who had come with me thought it was kind of stiff, and told me he was going to advise Fripp to buy Elvis' Sun Sessions to get some inspiration to loosen up, but at the last minute, he chickened out. What's funny is that a few months ago I was reading a book by a Guitar Craft student, and I come across a passage where Fripp is listing his favorite albums and his #1 favorite album turns out to be Elvis' Sun Sessions! Anyway, we don't deliberately try to sound like King Crimson, but it probably creeps into our sound without us being aware of it.

PS: What are your musical influences? And what's the background of the band's members?

RN: Major group influences are: Cinematic Orchestra, Erik Truffaz Quartet, Jaga Jazzist, Jojo Mayer’s The Nerve, and Sayag Jazz Machine. We all have various levels of jazz and classical training and education. Besides Todd (the drummer) none of us are really on the Jazz scene in KC.

MM: I'm primarily a self-taught guitar player. My earliest influences were progressive rock, and then I gravitated to post-punk sounds such as Television, Gang of Four and Wire. I loved the DIY aesthetic and using music as a means of personal expression instead of pursuing virtuosity. However, about 12 years ago, I realized that relying solely on my ear and intuition wasn't getting me where I wanted to go musically. I decided to pursue formal training and studied jazz guitar with Frank Rumoro and later with David Bloom, both excellent instructors from Chicago.

JW: All of us are or were involved with jazz to some degree. I'm into really out/avant/confrontational stuff, Ryan is into groovy hypnotic electronica - mostly drumnbass, Todd is into math-rock and technically challenging stuff. Nick is into that early Miles On the Corner kind of stuff.

PS: Material like "Unisound" is cinematic. Do you think of your music in a visual sense?

RN: Yes, we do want a cinematic quality to our music. We want it to give off a vibe or feeling much of the way a movie sound track sets the stage for what is going on in the film.

MM: For me, I'm really just thinking about the music without any external references. However, I believe music is most effective when it can invoke images in the listener.

JW: We are sort of heading in that direction. Most people when they are to the point of listening to music as organized sound, without any preconceptions of who's performing it, they'll draw visual images from it; they'll relate to it visually.

PS: A note at your site suggests that Mixed Method took time off to "reinvent themselves." What's that mean? And why did you feel you needed to change?

JW: Well, honestly we just got bored with what we were doing, and we were kind of stuck in the cycle of rehearse/perform/rehearse and we didn't really have time to develop or write new material.

RN: Everything we had done up to the EP was based on tracks of electronic beats we created and that the band played over. That method worked very well for us but it was a really rigid way to make music. We wanted to look at adding a live drummer and that meant redesigning the roles in the group and the way we played. We had to write all new material and figure out how we work as a group with a drummer. I think we are still trying to figure this out in many ways. Right now our music is even more diverse than before. It will be interesting to see where things head as the band continues to work together.

MM: Having Todd in the band has increased the energy level enormously. We still have electronics as a large component of our sound, but having a live drummer gives us so much more flexibility then we could ever get with programmed tracks.

PS: I love conventional acoustic jazz. It's my belief, however, that jazz must incorporate outside influences and new sonic textures in order to avoid becoming a Dixieland-style museum piece. Do you agree? And if so, do you view "saving jazz" as part of your mission?

RN: We all really dig traditional jazz too. There are so many amazing jazz musicians in KC playing at a very high level of skill and sophistication. We are not saving jazz, we don’t even claim to be jazz in a traditional way. If you want to see amazing jazz chops or mind-blowing solos you are not going to get that with us. The fact is that when play instrumental music with our instrumentation you get a jazz label and we are ok with that.

MM: We all love jazz, but I think of Mixed Method as a group that plays modern instrumental music with jazz influences. This isn't really a jazz project per se.

JW: I think that Jazz is already a museum piece. It doesn't need to grow to survive. It's like opera.

PS: Is Kansas City an accommodating base for an act like Mixed Method?

RN: Yes, KC has been pretty good to us.

JW: Apparently - we seem to get shows.

MM: So far, so good. I've only been in KC for a little over 5 years. I moved here from Chicago, which has a phenomenal music scene. However, I really like the vibe of this town. There is a lot less attitude here, and the music scene is really diverse with many outstanding players.

PS: Would you rather play for an audience of 500 people in a dance club or for 100 beard-scratching jazz fans? What is Mixed Method's ideal audience?

MM: 600 dancing, beard-scratching, jazz fans!

JW: What's funny is we've done both now. But the ideal audience is the one that gets us. People in both environments seem to get it.

RN: Our ideal audience is folks who take our music for what it is, and don’t try to corner us into a genre.

PS: Jardine's lists your April 10 show as "Underground Sounds." Do you agree with that assessment?

RN: Yeah, I guess. We are playing the show with Hominid which is Hunter Long’s solo electronica act. We are happy Jardine’s is giving us a chance to play.

MM: This will be our second show at Jardine's. It is really encouraging that Jardine's is hosting diverse acts such as ours. We are grateful to be able to play at such a prominent venue.

PS: Suppose a sixty-year-old Ida McBeth fan decides to stick around after her early show at Jardine's on April 10. What will that person make of Mixed Method?

RN: I have asked myself the same question.

MM: That all depends on what other sounds they like. Purists will probably not get our thing, but that's how it goes.

(Cross-posted from Kansas City jazz blog Plastic Sax. Original image by Plastic Sax.)