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I don’t think anyone really knows how much I nerd out about They Might Be Giants. I was 16 the first time I saw them live, the rest of high school I saw TMBG so many times I lost count. I had a group of friends that would drive all over New England with me, those were some good times. The teenage me became strongly attached to the angst filled obliqueness of the lyrics, they introduced me to the happy sounding sad song. As I got older I grew to appreciate the performance art that their live show can often be. I still hardly pass up the chance to see TMBG.

This year TMBG released two of their best albums in the last ten years and are riding high on the current nerd renaissance. The show at Showbox Sodo was pretty spot on. The recent albums have the sound of the early ones, and the show reflected their renewed enthusiasm. The Johns were  loving it. The set list covered most of their discog, with only a couple of questionable choices. I don’t think that many people really care to hear “Subliminal” or “Snail Shell”, it’s doubtful they are anyone’s favorite songs. Also, I think it is time they retire “Particle Man”, it sounds unfortunately dated, and at this point most people on earth have seen them perform it. The rest of the set list was curated nicely. The chosen new songs were good ones, highlights on “Marty Beller Mask” and a surprisingly good version of “You Probably Get That A Lot”.  “Fingertips” was one of the best versions I’ve seen, and it was awesome to hear “The Guitar” and “Dead” as the second encore.

Subliminal
Can’t Keep Johnny Down
Celebration
Why Does the Sun Shine?
Snail Shell
Fingertips
Old Pine Box
Birdhouse In Your Soul
Damn Good Times
Ana Ng
Battle For the Planet of the Apes
Judy is Your Viet Nam
Withered Hope
Marty Beller Mask
We Live in a Dump
You Probably Get That A Lot
Spoiler Alert
Cloisonne
Alphabet of Nations
Particle Man
Famous Polka
Careful What You Pack
The Mesopotamians
1st Encore
How Can I Sing Like a Girl?
When Will You Die?
2nd Encore
The Guitar
Dead

John Hogdman knows how to host a book reading, he turns them into a variety show, complete with special guests. At Town Hall the other night the guests were all musicians,neo-nerd rock cult hero Jonathan Coulton, Sean Nelson (from Harvey Danger) and John Roderick (from The Long Winters). Also a heckler in the audience turned out to be John Flansburgh, shocking!  He later he walked awkwardly on stage to sing a song I did not recognize, it could be in Hodgman’s new book, That is All, he had it in his hand and opened it at the podium. I only just started it.

John Hodgman has had a bit of a conversion since I last saw him in Portland at Wordstock. Then, he was riding high as a “minor television celebrity”. He was in the Apple ads and on both the Daily Show and Battlestar Galactica. Since then his television presence has waned a bit and he has taken on the persona of a “deranged million” with burgeoning obsessive thoughts about Ragnorok. Hodgman should have a monthly television show, he is and entertainer and born host. He understands how to work a crowd, blending stories about the post apocalypse with one liners and the occasional back and forth with someone in the audience. We felt at home. The musicians would occasionally come out for comic banter and to sing tunes. I was never a Harvey Danger or The Long Winters fan, I only know Sean Nelson and John Roderick as local music guys, that alway pop up around town and in the local newspapers. I didn’t know any of what they played, I still liked what they added to the night. I have seen Jonathan Coulton every time I’ve seen Hodgman, he is a demigod to literary rock nerds, an heir apparent to They Might Be Giants. I think he is fine, very likable, his performance of “Nemesis” with Roderick was one of the best moments of the night.  Hodgman, Nelson, Roderick, and Coulton performing “Tonight You Belong to Me” is what did it for me. That song has become a personal favorite since I heard Patience and Prudence kill it. The evening was so entertaining, it wasn’t until a bit later I realized there was actually very little talk about the book directly. Once I finish the book, I’ll probably connect the dots, he can be a sly one.

I did not take this picture, I found it on the interweb. After some research I believe it is from PurplePR Music.

When they announced Bjork’s Biophlia for the Manchester International Festival we already had the tickets to LADOMA, our plane tickets, and some of the trip planned out. The only show we could fit in was on the day we arrived, a short 4 hours after landing. Again Morgan surprised me by saying he would go, not that I wouldn’t have gone by myself.

Biophilia, Bjork’s most recent album (review to come), grew into a multimedia project. Including a series of shows, a book, a documentary and a series of i-pad apps. The brass tacks of the project is to expose the melding of nature and technology to create music. She designed several instruments, stuff like gravity harps and a gameleste. And as if to prove the amorphous nature of her music, Bjork delayed the release date of the album so that she could change the sound so that it reflected the new life the music took on during the festival shows.

The show was at Campfield Market Hall, inside was a medium-sized square stage in the middle flanked by four sets of bleachers. The instruments were set up along the perimeter, one corner for the drum kit (Manu Delago) and one corner for Matt Robertson‘s electronics (including a reactable!). There was a ring of screens over the stage playing DNA/virus like visuals to a playlist of Bjork songs that wouldn’t be heard live that night. We found a spot on the bleachers closest to the drum kit and waited as the hall filled. When the lights went dark the crowd exploded. Bjork and the 24 piece choir filled about half the stage. With the theater in the round format you end up looking at a lot of back, that would be my only complaint about the show. Bjork and the choir did seem to have some loose choreography and did their best to work the crowd.  Bjork sounded great in the venue, the slight echo of the market hall worked for her. The choir added that special etherial element that Bjork’s recordings often have. All the songs of Biophilia were played, some featuring the custom instruments and visuals that, I’m learning now, related to the i-pad app for each song. I was in love from the beginning with the singing tesla coil during “Thunderbolt”. The gravity harp used during “Solstice” was a dramatic way to end the main set. The set also had well curated selection of older songs, “Where Is The Line” and “Nattura” I will never forget.

Setlist:
Thunderbolt
Moon
Crystalline
Hollow
Dark Matter
Hidden Place
Mouth’s’Cradle
Isobel
Virus
Jóga
Sacrifice
Sonnets/Unrealities
Where is the line
Mutual Core
Cosmogony
Solstice
-encore
One Day
Hyperballad
Náttúra

A couple of years ago in Portland friends got me tickets to see Crystal Castles at Backspace a tiny coffee shop/performance space. At the time I knew nothing about them. The show was beyond crowded and we couldn’t see a thing, aside from the occasion arm or flap of hair. They sounded alright, their use of low-fi electronics and punk vocals was intriguing  enough for me to get their first album. The album was good, but I never fell in love with it. They released their second album last year, and my opinion of them changed. The second album is all sorts of dynamic and it became one of my favorite bike riding albums.  I knew it would be worth seeing them again when their show at Showbox Market was announced. Unfortunately the show got moved to Showbox SoDo, which is a terrible, terrible venue. Before Crystal Castles came out somebody warned us that Alice Glass had broken her ankle and was told to cancel the tour, moments later the venue went dark and the music started pounding. Because of the warehouse nature of the venue the sound was full of reverb and echo, but that didn’t matter. The light show, the energy from the music, and the ultra excited crowd brought the show to a frenetic level of enjoyment. Most of the time Alice Glass stayed supported by the mic stand, other times she was floating over the crowd kept aloft by the packed house and not missing a beat. They tore through a set comprised mostly from the most recent album, and  amped yet very dark versions of the older songs. I’m not ashamed to admit that I danced my ass off. I look forward to hearing the directions they go in, for such a young group, I expect good things of them.

 

One of my exes introduced me to the brutal sounds of Swans, a band I was ignorant of even though I was so close. They broke up a couple of years before I became aware. Michael Gira, the sonic genius behind Swans, moved on to solo projects and the less epic but more heartfelt Angels of Light. None of which really came close to Swans, which were always about the crushing power of sound. When Gira announced a new version of Swans would record a new album and tour I could only hope they would be able to come close to the original. The album made my best of the year list, even with it lacking the strength of the earlier albums, it has more in common with Angels of Light. Even thought I’ve been able to see Angels of Lights and Michael Gira (solo) several times, I was still online to get tickets for this show as soon as they went on sale. The show was beyond expectations. It was probably the second loudest show I’ve been too, a Mogwai show holds the title still. They opened with a new song that took twenty minutes to get started, a slow throbbing build up the climaxed with such beauty that could never be captured on record. Songs from the new album were played in a manner that was almost unrecognizable and guttingly gorgeous. Large chimes and two drummers took them closer to the original Swans line up and sound. The older songs, at least one from each album, shook the venue and the crowd to the point where we part of the sound. While I doubt we got even close to the experience of seeing the original Swans, I would happily (and eagerly) watch that show over and over.

I was blown away by this show, I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this is their first tour in a very long time. As excited as I was for the show,  I knew it wouldn’t be much to watch.  There would be a bunch of folks (mostly seated) playing subtle music that slowly builds to a frenetic apex, with songs lasting up to 20 minutes. I was a tad worried that Godspeed’s apocalyptic chamber rock sounds great on headphones or lounging at home, but possibly hard to stand through. It wasn’t, they took us to another place for 2 1/2 hours. I mean holy crap do they have their sound together. The set list stretched all their albums, but I have no idea of the songs titles. When they are playing they are one beast, and I could have watched them for days. Do yourself a favor and spend some time with GY!BE

The only other time I saw So Percussion they were playing with Matmos in Portland. I had a good idea what to expect from the show. Working anything that vibrates and makes sound they construct soundscapes with intricate rhythms. So Percussion uses buckets of water, the sound of sharpies writing, hand claps,  as well as drums, chimes and toy pianos to create the highly choreographed and the spontaneous. They played a couple of Steven Reich and John Cage songs, and a few of their own compositions.  Town Hall is not one of my favorite venues, the room is a bit echoey. That echo worked phenomenally well for So Percussion, with every turn of the head the sound changed. A reception was held after the show,  I went mainly for the snacks. It wasn’t too surprised to find my friend Ginger talking to one of the members. I casually snuck in there to ask some questions.  I’ve tried to figure out how they played and processed the cactus that was highlight of last summer’s show and only played briefly at this show, he happily explained the technique, which was super simple. A great show by a group that understands how to manipulate sound.