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Category Archives: Sounds



Last night I saw Bill Callahan, also known as Smog or (Smog), at The Independent in San Francisco. Bill Callahan’s persona welds a curious discontinuity between confessional writing and reserved delivery. His face can be mask-like, a bland West Texan poker face (though he’s from Maryland) that erupts into contorted grimaces when he sings. The discontinuity helps rescue him from the sin of bathos and from accusations of Jandek-ism, i.e. an outsider artist’s naivety about his own material; two spiritual pitfalls which too many of his kin succumb to. This contradictory spirit also induces a mix of respectful distance and a sense of deep intimacy between him and his audience.

To whit, when women shout at him on stage, they still call him “gentleman,” as one did after he made a crack about his “wee Mick guitar.”

Sir Richard Bishop
Sir Richard Bishop, a nimble bluespicker in the John Fahey tradition, opened for Callahan. At times, he played dizzyingly dense chunks of notes. He did a spoken word piece about sex and assassination that was cleverly done if a bit dated topically, the most recent reference being Sirhan Sirhan, or was it an AIDS joke?



Bill Callahan opened with a run of songs from his new album Woke on a Whaleheart; including “Honeymoon Child,” “Sycamore,” and “Diamond Dancer.” The songs seemed both statelier and folksier than on the album, a function of the violin being an equal instrument in the touring band, as well as the absence of Neil Hagerty’s (of Royal Trux) glossy production in the live set.


His first back catalogue song was a nice surprise, “River Guard” from Knock Knock. It is the song from the album I still listen to the most frequently, about a guard at a prison taking the prisoners out swimming for the day. It is one of those rare Smog song that doesn’t seem as deeply private as some, although the line between the two modes of songwriting is often indistinct.

He played an equal share of songs from his last Smog-monickered album, A River Ain’t Too Much To Love, including “Say Valley Maker,” “Rock Bottom Riser,” “Let me See the Colts,” and “I Feel Like the Mother of the World.” The latter, which was a more propulsive song live than on the recording, was made into a great video starring Chloe Sevigny.

“Let Me See The Colts” is one of my favorites from nay Smog album. The allegory of an optimistic gambler in the face of loss, desperate to see the horses of his future is a state of mind I can relate to, despite never having been to the track. He introduced a strange interlude during the song, whether spontaneous or scripted, it was difficult to tell:


Don’t let them see you crying,” he intoned heavily, and then repeated the line a few times in his unhurried way, before adding:

“Don’t let them see you crying

Laughing and clowning

Laughing and clowning”


“It was the tears that blinded me.

It was the tears that blinded me.

I must face what is directly in front of me

I wiped the tears from my eyes.”


He closed the show with “A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to be a Man” and his classic song from Wild Love, “Prince Alone in the Studio,” for which Bill sat at the piano. Before starting, he said, “This next one is a relic. The last relic of the night. It’s our last song actually.” The song, a celebration of crowning artistic onanism, the band captured the rich, triumphant, masturbatory bombast of the original track; a song appropriately studio-tweaked and layered, with surprising ease.

Prince’s Studio is Lonely


Callahan returned after briefly leaving the stage to play three more songs, including Cold Blooded Old Times , ending in an extended jam that found him at his most playful duckwalking around the stage on bended knees, even cracking a full unqualified smile. After that he asked the crowd what they wanted to hear as their real last song, “In the Pines,” or “The Well.” For the next minute the hall was an inchoate flood of callouts, so he put it to a vote by raise of hands, but even that proved inconclusive.

He teased the crowd some, flipflopping in his unhurried way hemming and hawing about which fans to please and wish to disappoint before settling on the Well. Even then it wasn’t clear that was the song they’d really play until he intoned, “This ones called The Well,” and its familiar talking blues walking bassline kicked in,

He subtly acted out the tale, keeping the crowd engaged to the very end in the story of a man who discovers a well into which he can yell his feelings out. He also discovers that the blackness of his dark emotions is not an absence, but “all colors at once.” He unfurls a banner of colorful emotions from “red rage” to his “blues” before heading back home; all delivered in his peculiarly deadpan way, even when hooting, even when shouting “fuckall y’all.”

I swear, though, when he turned away from the microphone I saw him hide a satisfied smile.

Bill Callahan has a few more upcoming shows on the west coast, including one tonight at the Mission Theater in Portland, Oregon.



Mindy and I went to see L.A. fuzz-punk dyad No Age at Bottom of the Hill the other night. If you don’t know who No Age are or what they are about, Randy Randall and Dean Spunt started out as two-thirds of Wives before splitting to form this truly awesome band. They released five excellent EPs in short order, and then culled the best tracks for their first full-length, Weirdo Rippers. Recently, they were signed to Sub Pop and are at work on a new album.

Video for “Boy Void”

Mi Ami and KIT
We missed the first band, Party Fowl, but caught local S.F. band, Mi Ami, who played shortly after we arrived. The rhythm section was tight and reminded me of the Minutemen, both in terms of sound and talent, but also, spookily, appearance. The bassist looked like a young Mike Watt in flannel and beard. He locked in tightly with the drummer and I really enjoyed watching him play. Too often, bassists just bump along, proving the equivalent of sonic filler, so it is always nice to see one who is a musician in his own right. The drummer played in a frantic, muscular style that reminded me of George Hurley, down to the way he flipped his mop of hair in his face. I’m not sure if this is an analogy that stands up to scrutiny, but it felt right to me at the time, and I’m sticking to it. The front man was extremely dynamic. He played guitar, twisted knobs, screeched and vamped, rang a splintered cowbell; whatever the song required, even if it was just offering attentive enthusiasm for the beat. They were Mindy’s favorite band of the night and reminded her of other locals, Lemonade.

I swear. Dude, I swear.

Their next show is October 1st at The Knockout with Always (Australia) and 3leafs.
Check them out on MySpace:

Next up was East Bay’s KIT. KIT are one those great bands where all the members are monstrously talented, but play like a group of drunken friends goofing around. The rest of the band thrashed along while guitarist, George Chen, teased the crowd with mock-epic metal guitar riffs. Here are pictures from flickr:



KIT on MySpace:

No Age took the stage just after 11 and played a solid forty minute set that included almost every song off Weirdo Rippers. Songs included, “Neck Escaper,” “Boy Void,” “Loosen this Job,” “My Life’s Alright Without You,” and “Every Artist Needs a Tragedy.” They also played two new ones, presumably from the forthcoming SubPop album, which were overall speedier and cleaner sounding than Weirdo Rippers, but still instantly recognizable as No Age songs.

“Neck Escaper” is my favorite song by them and I was glad to see it done justice at the show, but the highlight was “Everybody’s Down.” Guitarist, Randy Randall, immersed himself in the crowd, a look of total delight on his face, as he played the catchy melody over and over. Dean Spunt came out from behind his drum kit to sing at the mike stand. This went on for several minutes; the tension in the room building. Dean sat back down at his kit, unhurriedly, deliberately, channeling- I think- an innerfury for the inevitable assault. Sensing this, the kids piled around Randy readied themselves to unleash their pent up energy. All they needed was the spark of a stick pounding a drum to ignite the fire. From the first hit, they went completely berserk, and didn’t let up until the final note of the last song.

Here is a good clip of No Age playing “Everybody’s Down” live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn back in April by Poker Chris:

The guys in No Age were clearly having a great time. Randy kept repeating how psyched they were to play SF, how many friends they had here, how much they liked the other bands, and the city in general; all stage cliches, I know, the cynic inside me said, but the believer believed. What can I say? At one point Randy gushed so enthusiastically that Dean gently mocked him, saying “This is like MySpace in real life.”

They have a few more live dates across the country before heading off to Europe next month.

Sep 20 2007 Backspace PDX, Oregon

Sep 21 2007 Vera Project Seattle, Washington

Sep 22 2007 Pats Pub Vancouver, BC

Sep 23 2007 house party Olympia, Washington

Sep 25 2007 Delta of Venus Davis, California

Sep 27 2007 Drunken Unicorn w/ Deerhunter Atlanta, Georgia

Sep 28 2007 Mercy Lounge w/ Deerhunter Nashville, Tennessee

Sep 29 2007 Empty Bottle w/ Deerhunter Chicago, Illinois


Animal Collective played the Fillmore last night in support of their new album, Strawberry Jam. Though still sonically rich, Strawberry Jam is a tighter, more focused, and structurally predicable album than Animal Collective has ever delivered. The Fillmore is a decent mid-size venue for a band like Animal Collective whose audience has grown considerably over the last two years.

When Tuffy and I arrived, opener, Wizard Prison, was playing. Wizard Prison, a gimmicky, electronica act with metal guitars and spooky atmospherics, didn’t do it for me, so rather than rush headlong into the crush of kids, we waited patiently by the bar. Sophia said that recent Animal Collective shows consisted of unreleased post-SJ material for a new album that was heavily influenced by dance music. I’d read something similar online. As Wizard Prison finished their set, we moved into the crowd, found a spot and waited beer in hand, while the Fillmore blasted us with dub and reggae through heavily taxed, and possibly blown, speakers. At one point, a video screen slid down on the wall to play an ad for a Yerba Matte drink. Skinny, hairless, pimply boys jittered nervously while their girlfriends texted each other from across the room.

At 10, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist took the stage, but Deakin never appeared. Panda Bear, ensconced behind his organs for most of the songs with only his pale face in view, framed by his shaggy, Prince Valiant hair, reminded me of a choirboy, down to his often churchly castrato singing voice. Geologist was the frenetic, unkempt, laser-eyed Cyclops he always transforms into on stage. Avey Tare possessed the center, both literally and figuratively, of the night’s performance; moving between several musical stations, synthesizers, drumkits, and guitar, while singing and emoting with his body.

Unfortunately, the sound system was terrible, overdriven and badly mixed. I couldn’t tell if the band realized this or not, but it ruined the show for me and possibly many others. Absent were hits from Feels or most anything from earlier albums, like Sung Tongs or Here Comes the Indians. The set was almost entirely made up of songs from an album of unreleased material. Judging by the new material, Animal Collective is already in the process of abandoning the Pavement-style American Indie sound they’ve been inching towards album-by-album, instead embracing European electronic music, dub, dancehall, and even early 90s House music.



In total, they played four songs from the new album, “Peacebone,” “Derek,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” and “Fireworks.” Of them, only the last one came off with the power and enthusiasm of the recordings. “Peacebone” and “Unsolved Mysteries” were okay, but “Derek,” one of the best songs on the new album, due in large part to the bombastic snare drums and Panda Bear’s cacophonous crooning, felt flat, utterly ruined by the sound system and the lack of live percussion.

The band and the crowd maintained an awkward, uneasy relationship throughout. The crowd went berserk for anything from the newest album, but the band seemed reluctant to deliver; almost sullen. The crowd, mostly young suburban kids, seemed confused by the new material. They often fell into a profound listlessness broken only occasionally by hysterical cheers at the rare appearance of a song from Feels or Strawberry Jam.

At the start of every song, the kid behind me would say to his girlfriend either, “I’m totally lost,” or “I know this one; you’ll like it.” The best, most revealing moment came early on, after “Peacebone.” He turned to her and said, “They just played one of the three songs I know.”

High above in the balconies, the local music press-erati watched the kids sway awkwardly amidst a dense aural smog, battered by mega-watt multi-colored stagelights and smoke machines. The balcony seats were filled by fashionable, well-dressed early thirty-somethings, while the floor was overwhelmingly gangly adolescents and post-adolescents, dressed in bad, awkward wannabe-hipster attire; big hair and skinny ties from Urban Outfitters. A wretched bricolage of identities that, in retrospect fit the mutating hybridity of Animal Collective’s new sounds better than I would like. And the press-erati, with their undergraduate musings on art, assessing and repackaging new sounds into consumable commodities, belonged in their balcony seats above the assembled crowd too. But what about Animal Collective?

During a rare moment when Avey addressed the audience, he unconvincingly mumbled how happy Animal Collective were to be there. Watching them on stage, I detected a hint of ambivalence, and wasn’t sure I should believe him. Maybe it was the bad sound system, maybe I was tired and too old for the kids, but judging from the show at the Fillmore last night, I think Animal Collective may be feeling the stress of so many changes; to their sound, their audience, and their identities. Maybe they aren’t so sure they want to be just another music commodity.




Several excellent side and solo projects have been issued by members of Animal Collective since their rightly lauded Feels in 2005, most notably from Panda Bear and Avey Tare, but if fears that the group, legendarily loose, might find its sound scattered and its members sonically isolated, fear not:

Strawberry Jam is the tightest and most self-assured album from Animal Collective yet.

Though Avery Tare’s voice is all over the disc, Panda Bear’s private aesthetic, matured on his excellent recent solo album, Person Pitch, informs their new style, a density of overlapping textures and fuzz-pop melodies. As much as I loved Feels and think Sung Tongs is brilliant, I can understand the critics who felt they were occasionally slack and meandering. At the same time, I valued the sonic adventures for themselves, and if they stalled out or wound themselves into a cul-de-sac, I accepted it as a consequence of their aesthetic. By contrast, the songs on Strawberry Jam shimmer with exploratory details that support and expand the heart of every track.

From opener, “Peacebone” onward, you can sense the seachange, familiar but also new. The sounds are distinct, and the samples and sonic details are all organic to the song which is kept focused by a throbbing bassline and Avey Tare’s vocals and lyrics. My favorite line from “Peacebone” is, “But the monster was happy when we made him a maze/ Cause he don’t understand intentions he just looks at your face.”

“For Reverend Green,” begins with a very catchy opening, reminiscent of “Turn Into Something” from Feels, and includes the first true shout-along of the album:

Now I think it’s alright we’re together
Now I think that’s alright yeah
Now I think it’s the best you’ve ever played it
Now I think that’s alright yeah
Now I think it’s alright to feel inhuman
Now I think that’s alright yeah
Now I think it’s alright to sing together
Now I think that’s alright yeah

Listening to the chorus, every time Avey gets to the part where he shouts, “Now I think it’s alright to feel inhuman/Now,” I beam inside-out. Whether this is animal pleasure or not, I don’t know, but the proximity between human/inhuman and the animal/man appears in many of the album’s lyrics. (I could speculate on this theme and the prevalence of food imagery and their relationship as part of the same motif, but this isn’t school).

“Cuckoo Cuckoo” and “Derek,” the last two tracks, are good examples of how Animal Collective makes brilliant use of percussive sounds. Even the vocal element sounds percussive on “Cuckoo Cuckoo.” The final song, “Derek” comes across the most like an outtake from Panda Bear’s last album. When the marching drums kick in at the song’s midpoint the sheer excitement, the pent up intensity of the album seems to find a natural culmination without exhausting the listener, so that when the familiar hum of “Peacebone” begins, I am ready to begin the whole listening experience over without pausing for an aural breath.

Animal Collective tour dates are listed below. I’ll be at the Fillmore show in San Francisco tonight with Tuffy and will write a review of the show and any drunken lunacy that may ensue.

Upcoming Shows

( view all )

Sep 17 2007



the Fillmore

San Francisco, California

Sep 18 2007



Henry Fonda Theater

Los Angeles

Sep 20 2007



the Rialto Theater

Tuscon, Arizona

Sep 21 2007



club 101

EL PASO, Texas

Sep 22 2007




Austin, Texas

Sep 23 2007



Bricktown Ballroom

Norman, Oklahoma

Sep 24 2007



Gargoyle Club

St. Louis, Missouri

Sep 25 2007



Cannery Ballroom

Nashville, Tennessee

Sep 26 2007



Variety Playhouse

Atlanta, Georgia

Sep 27 2007



Cat’s Cradle

Carrboro, North Carolina

Sep 28 2007



9:30 Club

Washington, Washington DC

Sep 29 2007



Starlight Ballroom

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sep 30 2007



Webster Hall

New York, New York

Oct 1 2007



Webster Hall

New York, New York


August 12th was the Night of St. Lawrence’s Tears. St. Lawrence, a deacon of the early Roman Church put to death in 258 by the Roman Emperor Valerian (“episcopi et presbyteriet diacones incontinenti animadvertantur”), is the Saint of Librarians. Lawrence was grilled to death on a grid iron. Supposedly, he was so tough that instead of betraying the Church he said, “I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other.” August really is the best time to barbecue.

The night of his roasting, there was a meteor shower which Christians took to be a sign that the Heavens cried at his death. This meteor shower reoccurs every year, “The Night of St. Lawrence’s Tears.” History Lesson Over!

Well, on the Night of Saint Lawrence’s Tears 2007, I went to see Mika Miko at 21 Grand with Mindy. When we got there, Sophia was already trashed, dancing feverishly next to the guitarist in Mikaela’s Fiend, dressed for the beach in Miami; wearing a tiny top, smaller shorts, and flat sandals; her body bronzed from a recent trip to Raging Waters and glistening with sweat. When I mentioned the outfit, she said she’d been wearing something even skankier but her friends wouldn’t let her leave the house until she changed.

She dragged me outside for a cigarette and at one point she laid across the hood of a car on her back smoking a cigarette and drinking a Tecate. When a group of guys looked over at her, she said, is this your car? They all chimed in, no. It’s all good then, she said, reclined on the windshield and flicked her ash.

It was kind of like this:

Margo showed up right before Twin’s set. She had her hair down in soft waves and spiraling curls framed her face. She was wearing a light summer top with a t-shirt and jeans underneath and black flats. She glowed just like the Lady of Guadalupe:

Sweet Hope in the Midst of the Bitterness of Life

Mindy left to get food at this point, but texted after only a few minutes to say that the Taco Bell/KFC would not serve her as a pedestrian in the drive-through. When she finally did show she had a bag of fries she bought at the burger place nearby. She said the guy behind the counter felt bad for her and sold her the bag for only a dollar, but then the other guy working (manager, maybe) stepped in and charged her an additional 65 cents. The first guy said, mysteriously, “Metal shouldn’t be taking it out on Flowers.”

Metal shouldn’t be taking it out on Flowers?

I Googled this phrase and turned up nothing. Is the next Mallarmé working at Giant Burger in Oakland? Perhaps, perhaps…

“While that heart no tooth of any crime
Can wound lives in your breast of stone,
Frightened of dying while I sleep alone.” -Stephen Mallarme

When Mika Miko were about to play, I went up front with Sophia and her friend, Andreas. Andreas said Mika Miko do this amazing cover of The Misfits song, Attitude.

They’ve been trying to remove it from their set but Andreas says he gets them to play it everytime he sees them. Just watch, he says. Sure enough, between every song he yelled in an incredibly high-pitched voice, “Attitude. Play It. Just play attituuuude!” They were like, we don’t play that song anymore, but then at the end of the set, sure enough they rocked the song and it ruled.

Good job, Andreas!

Afterwards, we gave Mindy a ride to her car, and then Margo realized she’d lost her phone. At first she thought she left it at the show, then she realized she left it at the church on Broadway Auto Row when she’d stopped there to use the bathroom (why, I don’t know).

No, Not God’s Gym

This is where it gets gross.

When we got there though, the church door was locked. This despite the fact that Margo insisted ALL churches are ALWAYS open. Not in Oakland they are not!

I called her phone and we heard it ringing, not inside the church, but in the yard out front, behind a tree in a dark little nook. She said she was nowhere near that tree or that nook, meaning someone picked it up and put it there. We searched for it in the dark and found it, but it was all wet and smelled bad. A bum had peed on it! She ran out into the street, screaming, grabbed some leaves and tried to dry it off. Meanwhile, I’m standing there behind the tree and I realize I smell something horrible. I look down and to my unending horror I discover: I AM STANDING IN BUM SHIT! I ran out to the street and, mimicking behavior I observed in Margo, grabbed a handful of leaves and used them to clean off my shoes.

Basically, we found ourselves outside a church in the middle of the street on Broadway at 1 AM, making horrible retching sounds, cleaning shit and piss from shoes and cellphone with leaves as best we could on the Night of St. Lawrence’s Tears, like tool-using animals!

We had planned to watch the meteor shower, but decided we’d both cried enough for one night, so we just went home.

It is worth noting the event that led directly to St. Lawrence’s martyrdom. The prefect of Rome demanded he turn over the Church’s wealth. He asked for three days. He gathered up the poor, crippled, sick, blind, and most wretched benefactors of the Church, and presented them to the prefect. Here is the wealth of the Church, he said, so they cooked him.

The next day, Margo sent the following message:

“something on my person smells like a dirty, sleeping squirrel but i can’t figure out what…”