Best albums of 2014: No. 5-7

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #5-7. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20 and #8-10.

Todd

#7: Sharon Van Etten, Are We There

sharon-van-ettenChris had this album at #8, me at #7, it must be great right? Like Chris, I enjoyed parts of Sharon’s last album. I also really loved her AV Club cover of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Shearwater. I believe they dubbed the collaboration, Shearon Van Ettonwater. Very clever. Anyways, liked her, didn’t love her. Until now.

Are We There is a raw, emotional album that you don’t just throw on for fun. You have to be in a good state of mind or you can get dragged into the muck with her. Not to say there aren’t lighter moments. Like Chris mentioned in his post, the line “I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom.” What a revelation that was! I was under the impression that hot women didn’t go #2. I’ve been with my wife 17 years now and until I heard that lyric I was 93% sure she didn’t go poo. Thanks for ruining the mystery there Sharon.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make the live show in Iowa City with Chris. That makes two shows she’s done in Iowa City I’ve missed. The first concert was a few years back and I decided to go to a Dirty Beaches concert that night instead. Big, big mistake.  I still have tinnitus from that awful event. Sharon, please come back a third time…I promise to show up this time.

#6: Gardens & Villa, Dunes

g&VGardens & Villa’s first album could have made my best of 2011 list if I’d have stumbled upon it a bit sooner. It wasn’t until late winter 2012 that I got into that record. The 5-some from California’s debut album was at its best during the fast paced synth pop songs like “Orange Blossom” and “Star Fire Power.” The MoSS? boys actually saw G&V in Iowa City a few years back. The venue was a tiny room under a Subway sandwich shop. Odd venue but it was a great show. They filled the tiny space with surprisingly good acoustics with their odd style of synthesizers and flutes. That’s right, the lead singer works the flute into almost every song. Going so far as to wear what we dubbed a “quiver” of many flutes slung over his shoulder. Part of me wishes they’d come back to town again so I could hear how their sound fills a larger more professional venue. The other part of me would be fine with just that one concert experience. The show was so intimate (there were like 12 people there besides our group) and special it would be hard to beat.

So, as I was saying, the debut album was a bit sluggish during the more slowed down songs. Where the last album failed Dunes succeeds. The up-tempo songs out number the slower songs and when they do sprinkle a slow song in here and there they don’t drag the album down. Songs like “Purple Mesas” and “Minnesota” aren’t going to draw a crowd to the dance floor but they are still filled with the same life that the rest of the Dunes has which makes for an excellent full album listening experience.

 

#5: Beck, Morning Phase

beckI’ve always had a love it or hate it attitude towards Beck’s albums. Seems like every other album he makes will fall into the “Hate It” category. His last album Modern Guilt? Hated it. It didn’t seem original in any way. Basically, it sounded like a dude trying to sound like Beck. So it would stand to reason that I love his new album Morning Phase right? Correct, I love it.

A lot has been written about how Morning Phase is like his 2002 album Sea Change. While they do have a similar feel, listening to Morning Phase doesn’t make me want to blow my brains out. He was clearly going through some shit back then.  He is still dealing with some melancholy themes. Throughout the new album he brings up the topic of loneliness. The opening lyric of  standout track “Blue Moon” is :
I’m so tired of being alone
These penitent walls are all I’ve known

He later pleads…

Oh, don’t leave me on my own
Left me standing all alone

My favorite song on Morning Phase, “Wave”, also deals with the subject of loneliness. Give it a listen in the playlist above. The string arrangement and the lyrics are a bit of-putting as he calls out “Isolation” over and over.

Not all of the songs are downers. Many like “Morning” and “Heart is a Drum” seem to deal with the idea of starting over and are down right upbeat. I do miss the goofy 20-something Beck and there isn’t anything goofy about Morning Phase. Beck is older and making the music of a grown-ass man. I can appreciate that.

Chris

#7: Andy StottFaith in Strangers

andy-stott

I’ve been late to the party many times, despite my best efforts to stay current. Andy Stott is one such example. I didn’t listen to his 2012 album, Luxury Problems, until May 2013, long after we’d put out our year-end lists. Given what I consider a weak year, Stott would have easily landed in my top 10, possibly even my top 5. Needless to say, I knew to keep my eyes and ears open for his next move.

It came toward the end of 2014, and this time I was ready. And my attention has been rewarded with exquisite compositions that bring to mind some of the mid-’90s Bristol scene (Portishead, Massive Attack, and, perhaps most apt, Pre-Millennium Tension era Tricky). This was also one of the most difficult albums to pull two songs from as prime examples of the album’s greatness: the songs’ quality doesn’t ebb and flow, and they all play nice in one solid listen.

I eventually went with “Violence,” a song that feels rather sparse but gets great effect from the whispered vocal provided by Alison Skidmore, Stott’s former piano teacher (who also featured prominently on Luxury Problems). The song quietly builds for a couple of minutes before the beat comes along, creating another ominous layer. I love the slow build and the abrasive noises that punctuate the song.

I also picked “No Surrender,” just to show that Stott can arrange a song without the central hook of a vocal. And I love the introduction of the percussion at the 2:00 mark…song absolutely shifts gears at that moment and becomes something else.

Stott is now right there with The Field in terms of “I can’t wait to see what he does next” in this genre. If you don’t know Andy Stott or his work, I would implore you to (ahem) put your faith in this stranger.

#6: Alvvays, Alvvays

alvvays-albumIt’s fair to say that seeing these guys perform just days before we planned to publish these lists didn’t hurt Alvvays’ position in my rankings. I loved the tunes on their debut full-length offering, bringing to mind an artist that typically ranks high on my annual lists, Best Coast. To see the songs performed with such enthusiasm and skill cemented the album’s spot in my top 10, ahead of some stuff I really, really enjoyed this year (at one point, Sharon Van Etten or Royksopp/Robyn seemed destined to live up here).

Is it surf pop? Is it indie rock? Is it jangle pop? Is it happy? Is it sad? Is it ambitious? Is it laid back? Is it catchy? Is it upbeat? Is it thoughtful? Is it varied? Is it fun?

Yep.

That’s the nice thing about this album. It is diverse and rich in emtions. You could play these songs when you’re sitting around having a drink and shooting the breeze. You could play these songs when you’re enjoying a sunny summer day. You could play these songs when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. You could play these songs during a leisurely drive. You can sing along with a smile; you could sing along while feeling melancholy.

A promising debut full-length from a cool quintet. The quality found here ensures more than a passing fad.

#5: The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

war-on-drugs

(Worth noting: When I made my list this year, it took me about eight seconds to pick my top 5. To my ears, they stood well above everything else I listened to this year. Since this album is rolling out a day or two before the others in my top 5, I wanted to stress that distinction.)

I’ve been to a lot of shows over the years, and I usually know what I’m going to get out of the deal. My friend Brittany Jade gives me shit every time I come back from a concert with a glowing report: “Your reviews mean nothing! Everything you see is amazing.”

Well, perhaps I’m just that smart…I know who will play a good show. But I’m not infallible. The War on Drugs is one of those rare shows that kinda, well, sucked. Mission Creek a couple of years ago (Todd actually mentioned the show above; it was a shared bill with Dirty Beaches). The War on Drugs headlined, and to call the show “chaotic” is an understatement. Adam Granduciel was pretty much wasted and spent most of his time yelling “Woooo!” (which the crowd started to mimic, and not exactly lovingly). Even Ric Flair would have suggested laying off the “Woooos!”

So when everyone started talking about the new War on Drugs album, how great it was, blah blah blah, my first thought was “Woooo!” Or “Really?”

But I had to investigate the hype. And from moment one, the album is gorgeous. “Under the Pressure” is a lengthy opener that doesn’t feel long, if that makes sense. “Red Eyes” has some “Woooos” in it, but they actually punctuate emotional moments rather than come off like fumbling drunken yowls. Every song on the album feels intricately crafted and is a great soundtrack for chilling the day away. My personal favorite: “An Ocean in Between the Waves,” as it meshes a propulsive beat with dreamy guitar notes and a relaxed vocal delivery that fits nicely between those two aforementioned elements. Guitar work toward the end of the song is really nice without being overly showy. Even though the song is a shade over seven minutes, I often find myself listening to it again immediately after finishing a first listen.

As someone who isn’t a big fan of Springsteen (to whom this album is often compared) or the band’s previous output (I never bothered to go beyond Spotify with Slave Ambient) I must admit this is a wonderful achievement in songwriting. Perhaps Iowa City will get a do-over on the live-show front…

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Best albums of 2014: No. 8-10

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #8-10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20.

Todd

#10: Broncho, Just Enough Hip To Be Woman

BronchoThis was kind of a late addition to my list. Sirius XMU played the song “Class Historian” basically every 5 minutes this fall and I was pretty annoyed by it at first. Then I caught myself dancing around my kitchen to it one morning while making breakfast. Damn you Broncho! Those infectious doot-doot-doot-doot’s hooked me in. At work that day, I brought the album up on Spotify and listened to it several times. Since then its been a mainstay on my work playlist.

So why’s it so good? Just Hip Enough is your basic garage rock filled with instantly memorable hooks that never seem to grow tiresome. Broncho reminds me of several bands at the same time. The vocals make me think of “Surrender” era Cheap Trick and the overall feel of the album is a lot like Catherine’s, Hot Saki and Bedtime Stories, an album on my Top 100 of all time. (That’s an obscure one, I bet the Catherine band members don’t even have that album in their top 100)

Check Just Hip Enough out for yourself and I guaranty you’ll find something to love about it. It’s a quick listen clocking in at 32 minutes. If anything, it will help keep you from falling asleep at your desk.

#9: Ariana Grande, My Everything

arianaYup…not kidding. This album is very good. Really…I can’t believe it either.

A few months ago, I would have called you crazy if you told me an Ariana Grande record would show up on my best of the year list. I was one of the Ariana haters too. I hated her stupid T.V. show Sam & Cat  that my tween daughter insisted on watching non-stop, I hated her incredibly annoying speaking voice on said show and mostly I hated that Pitchfork gave her a 7.7 out of 10 on her album review. 7.7! That’s pretty high regard for a website notorious for its music-snobbery. They gave the Pixies a fucking 1.0 for their new EP-1. What’s the world come to when the Pixies, Rock n’ Roll Gods mind you,  get a 1.0 and this annoying little whore gets a 7.7?!!…take a breath. I was convinced the reviewer was either trying to get into trouble or get “into” Ariana Grande.

Then, at the request of my daughter, I downloaded My Everything. I was all set to hate it. The thing was I didn’t hate it…like…at all. Halfway through every song I would think to myself, “Damn it, this is good.” I needed reassurance from an adult I trusted that this was actually happening. I played My Everything for my wife. She had the same reaction as me. Her exact words were, “I want to hate it but I just can’t.” Well said darlin’.

At first listen you may think every song sounds like another artist. You say, “Oh this is the Mariah song, this is the Janet Jackson song, this is the one that sounds like Michael.” Then you’ll realize like I did, that her songs are instantly likable BECAUSE they remind you of other artists. She also pairs herself with other talented artists in many of the songs which help give her some credibility. (She gets a writer’s credit on almost all of the songs but I’m convinced she can’t possibly read or write. She seems real-real dumb. I picture her putting on lipstick, twisting the tube until it’s fully extended, then eating the remainder of the stick).

In summation…I’m serious, it’s very good.

#8: Phox, Phox

phox

Another in a long line of bands with names featuring alternate,more Google friendly, spellings of common words. Chvrches, Alvvays, now Phox. While Phox plays the same weird name game, that is pretty much where the similarities stop amongst those bands. There’s no Chvrches-esque electronic sounding songs in Phox’s self-titled album. Of the 6 Phox band members, not one of them is twisting knobs on a turntable. There is also nothing lo-fi about Phox’s music. The musicianship and plush vocals make this a much more quiet and intimate listening experience.

I can’t rave enough about the lead, Monica Martin’s, voice. Whispering, shimmery, crooning, breathy and deceivingly powerful. She truly uses her voice like an instrument with long breathy runs throughout songs like “Leisure” and “Laura”. None of it seems forced and all of it fits perfectly.

I recently found out that Phox was going to be in town this January and I can’t wait to see if the live show is as satisfying a listen as this album. Maybe we’ll see you there?

Chris

#10: Royksopp and RobynDo It Again

royksopp-robynI love that one of my favorite releases of 2014, Do It Again by Royksopp and Robyn, features one of my favorite toys from 1982 or 1983 on lead vocals. That would be the song “Sayit,” calling upon a Speak & Spell to deliver the mantra of “I…Want…You,” with Robyn answering back with a come-hither “I want you too.” They even include the ruptured voice that the S&S would make when the batteries run low. Pure genius.

Of course, there’s more to this five-song gem than just some ’80s electronics. The opening track, “Monument,” is a great build-up intro, loads of tension. It gives way to the aforementioned “Sayit” and then the title track, which is a real conundrum of a tune. On one hand, it is pop perfection, so much so that it makes me wonder why the song isn’t absolutely huge. On the other hand, if that’s the case, one might think that I would instantly hate it.

The first part has to do with the marketing machine (or lack thereof) behind these Swedes. Their ambition isn’t to play some fucking Friday morning concert for GMA. They are more than content to play on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night TV stage. The second part has to do with the misconception that just because I write a pseudo-diary about music, I would hate everything popular and/or poppy. Not true. Most things, but not all. Great pop music works for me, as long as I call the shots on how often I get/have to hear it.

All in all, this is a solid EP, a welcome return of Robyn to my rotation. Hope these guys work together more often down the road.

#9: First Aid KitStay Gold

first-aid-kitAt this very moment, “Emmylou” remains my favorite First Aid Kit song. (It’s so great.) But despite the presence of that tune on The Lion’s Roar, I much prefer FAK’s most recent album, Stay Gold, and it’s not even close, really.

The album is a satisfying listen from start to finish. It kicks off with “My Silver Lining,” a song that is the closest thing to a contender to “Emmylou”‘s perch atop the First Aid Kit catalog. “Master Pretender” is an upbeat song 2, followed by the title track, which is another showcase of the sisters’ powerful pipes. It always gets me when they both launch into the chorus with gusto: “What if our hard work ends in despair? What if the road won’t take me there? Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold.” I love it.

The two voices intertwine so wonderfully throughout the album; I really don’t see a dull moment among the 10-track playlist. And the hippie vibe I’ve always felt from these two comes through in musical flourishes on “The Bell” and “Cedar Lane.” It’s wrong to characterize this album, or First Aid Kit as a whole, as chill, even if the music wants to take you there. (The closing song, “A Long Time Ago,” might be an exception.) Their voices are too powerful to allow for that simple of a classification. Beautiful works, though, as does intriguing.

#8: Sharon Van EttenAre We There

sharon-van-ettenCan’t address this album without looking back at a couple of fun moments involving Sharon Van Etten: her excellent set at Pitchfork, and her show at Gabe’s in Iowa City, where Sam incurred the wrath of SVE when all he was trying to do was get more people to the show. (They kissed and made up after the show. Or hugged. Or high-fived. I dunno.)

But I wouldn’t care about either of those live encounters unless the music she was performing was top-notch. Are We There is just that. Much like First Aid Kit above, I really like a couple of songs from Van Etten’s previous album but feel like the latest offering is head and shoulders above. It’s a heavy listen, as you might expect from an album featuring “I Love You But I’m Lost” and “Break Me.” The album starts well, with SVE pleading that she “needs you to be afraid of nothing”—fair warning for the emotional depths about to be explored. “Taking Chances” stretches out the word “emotions” into a full line of a verse while keyboards soar in a place where guitar solos might have once lived. “Our Love” is a lighter moment on the surface, but then you hear the lyrics (“At the bottom of a well//I’m reliving my own hell//Someone throws the ladder down//Still don’t know what I have found//In our love”).

I haven’t even touched on the best song (“Your Love Is Killing Me”) or the song with the funny/bizarre lyric (“Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” which features the line “I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom”). Rest assured, though, that this album is an amazing emotional ride.

From the MoSS? Pit: #PJMoline

Pearl Jam Eddie Up Close

First, a foreword from Todd:

I can’t believe my live music luck lately (Exhibit A: Look at that photo). The concert gods have smiled upon me many times over the last year or so. From successful pre-sale ticket purchases to front row / VIP seats, I’ve had an incredible run. Actually all of us MoSS? dorks have of late. I’m still jealous of Chris’ front row spot at the Cure concert last month and Sam’s run-in with Sharon Van Etten last week. This Pearl Jam concert beats them all for dumb luck, though.

If you read my portion of the MoSS? 100 Undisputed Best Albums of All Time list, then you will remember I had Pearl Jam’s Ten ranked as my #33 album. Not too shabby. But you may also remember that I tired of them by their Vitalogy album. I actually bought tickets to see them around that time during their anti-Ticketmaster tour. I sold them at a tidy profit and bought a super sweet mountain bike. Still have the bike along with monstrous calf muscles.

Anyways, back to the subject at hand. Some months back I’d heard Pearl Jam were coming to the Quad Cities. I looked into tickets and saw they were already sold out. Flash forward to a week before the show. I was chitchatting with a co-worker and he offhandedly mentioned that he had a line on some tickets. Someone he knew worked at the concert venue and they told him that once the stage layout was finalized, they may be adding a few more seats. I told him to give me a call if he heard anything and walked away from the conversation thinking there wasn’t a chance in hell anything would come from it. I had all but forgotten the whole thing when he called me as I was sitting in a meeting. I rather awkwardly excused myself from the room and answered. This is how the conversation went:

MoSS? Todd: Hey!

Co-Worker: Hey man! You have seventh row seats reserved if you call my guy at the venue.

MoSS? Todd: Sweet! How much?

Co-Worker: I don’t know. Face value? Who cares? Call him. Like soon.

MoSS? Todd: OK. Cool. Seventh row, huh? Sweet. That’ll be pretty close. You think I could get four tickets? All together?

Co-Worker: All great questions … for the dude onsite. Call him. Now. He told me we had like five minutes … like three minutes ago.

MoSS? Todd: Ooh. Shit! Thanks. Click

So long story short, I got four tickets in the seventh row. I took Mrs. MoSS? Todd and our usual concert support crew friends. The seats were great and Eddie actually came out into the crowd  just a few rows away from us.

The only bummer from the evening was the massive headache I got from the weed smokers around me. I sound like an old man but honestly, it was crazy. As soon as the lights went down it was as if someone started a tire fire a few rows in front of me. Aside from the stench of the sticky icky, we had a blast. Great music with great friends. Now back to you, Sam. – Todd

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PJ Panorama

Full house Friday night in Moline.

 

Sorry for the delay, folks. But I needed a few days to let this one marinate …

OK, I’m ready now.

As you may have heard, either here or on Twitter – which I repeatedly (or annoyingly) shared, ad nauseum, all over the various internets – after a 23-year wait that bordered on a Moby Dick-sized white-whale chase, I finally saw Pearl Jam in concert, on Friday night at the iWireless Center (formerly The Mark of the Quad Cities) in Moline, Ill.

(The epicness of this night isn’t even taking into account the always-entertaining prospect of another concert road trip and hotel stay with those wacky Dubs, punctuated with Skeet falling asleep flat on his back and eventually choking on his own saliva, which strangely seemed to trigger T-Dub’s spectacular, surreal bout of night terrors – which are not unlike this, except hornier and somehow arrogant, something to which the slumbering and annoyed Mrs. T-Dub will surely attest:)

As for the show, was it everything I had hoped for? After much thought and reflection, I’d have to say yes, most definitely. This is a battle-tested group of road warriors. They are unbelievably tight, full of energy, with an improvisational spirit. Plus, they seemed genuinely stoked to be in our hidden-away neck of the woods, which always feels good as a fan. And they hammered away until they’d given us a 36-song set clocking in at roughly three hours.

Now …

That’s how I feel about it now, after a few days of letting it sink in.

But I have to admit: I didn’t feel that way Friday night. At least not at first.

I mean, this is Pearl Jam. This is a band I had been waiting to see since 1991, so naturally, I had a list of songs in my head I was dying to hear. In fact, I chronicled it for posterity in my previous piece. Here’s the “Cliff’s Notes” version of that list:

  • Please play “Oceans.” Please play “Garden.” Please play “Release.”
  • Please consider “Breath” and “Crown of Thorns.”
  • Either “I Got ID” or “Long Road” would be a treat.
  • And finally, Yield … I’d piss myself with glee if you played “Faithfull.”

Remember, this is a band that never plays the same set twice. Every song in their catalog is fair game at any given show. That’s the main reason you can actually follow them on tour. This isn’t Kiss, who always play a 20-song combination, pulled from the same 40 songs spanning a 40-year career, every single night (don’t be mad, Kiss, I still love you guys). No, with Pearl Jam, you get something different at every concert. So, if they play a song one night, especially one of the more obscure ones, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t get it two nights in a row.

So I, of course, started stalking Twitter and setlist.fm in the days leading up to my show, hoping that they wouldn’t play the songs from my wish list.

Nope.

On Tuesday in Memphis, they played “Garden.” More scarily, they played “Breath.” Two days later, in Detroit, they friggin’ opened the show with “Release,” followed by “Oceans.” Uh oh.

So, going into the show, I already knew that I probably wouldn’t get at least half of the songs I was absolutely pining to hear.

Still I remained optimistic. It’s Pearl Jam, after all. There’s still a ton of songs I’d be happy with, you know?

Things looked good in the 216

Things looked good in the 216

After worrying for months about our spot on the side of the stage, I took as a good omen that our seats turned out to be pretty damn sweet. And when they took the stage and opened the show with “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” all systems were go.

Shortly after, I remember they tore into “Hail, Hail” and immediately followed it with “Who You Are.” I did take notice of them playing these two songs back to back.

But after a while, even though I was loving what I was hearing, my attention started drifting. I started consciously thinking about my own personal wish list of songs, and about how I was afraid I wouldn’t get them. I mean, it was my first show. It’s hard NOT to be a little selfish, right?

The band soldiered on. They even played “Garden,” which was huge since they had just played it in Memphis. The set list was long and expansive, covering their whole career. They even gave us one of my favorite cover tunes when they blistered through Neil Young’s “Fuckin’ Up.” After playing their customary closer “Yellow Ledbetter,” this night that I had waited a generation for had come to a close.

Exiting the arena, I realized I only got one song from my wish list. For a few moments, I started wondering – out loud, even – if what I had feared was actually true: Were we just flyover country? Were we just the warm-up show for the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Denver? All because they didn’t play the songs that I wanted to hear?

But before I could actually truly debate this with my friends as we walked for a post-gig beverage, I finally turned my phone back on (yes, I turned it off after I was rightfully scolded from the stage earlier in the week at a club show at Gabe’s in Iowa City by Sharon Van Etten). And I had this tweet waiting for me:

Wait, what?

I hadn’t even noticed. I was so preoccupied with hearing the songs on my list that I hadn’t even noticed. Like I said, I DID notice when they played “Hail, Hail” and “Who You Are” back to back. But, in hindsight, it went completely over my head when Eddie said “alright, end of Side 1” after finishing “Off He Goes.” How did I NOT put that together?

People, some of which I had reached with my blog about losing my PJ virginity, were responding. Almost immediately. With jealousy. Only then did I realize how special it was.

There’s a scene in the great Cameron Crowe documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, where you see a brief montage of fans saying just how many times they’ve seen the band live, with one guy saying something absurd like 250-plus times, over various countries and continents.

So yeah, I didn’t get the songs I wanted. This is true. But there’s some dude out there that’s seen Pearl Jam 250-plus times that has NEVER gotten this show, because in their entire history, this was the first time they’ve ever done the “entire album front to back” thing before …

(Yeah, in 1992, they probably played all of Ten … big fucking deal. They were a brand new band with exactly ONE album – I would hope they played all of it! Plus, at a show in Italy in 2006, they played the entire self-titled album (aka The Avocado) but according to Rolling Stone’s account, it was out of sequence.)

But on Friday night in Moline, they played the album that diehards cherish from start to finish AND in sequence. Would I personally have rather had Ten, Vitalogy or Yield front to back instead of No Code? Yes, I would have. But this is their beloved album, for some reason. And we got it.

Plus, oh yeah … let’s not discount the fact that Eddie Vedder wrote a FUCKING ORIGINAL SONG – a song he titled “Moline” and described as a companion piece to his classic Vitalogy track “Better Man” – for our show that just might, maybe, end up on an album someday.

Perspective, people. It’s really hard to complain when you put it in perspective.

Now, did I feel a little less special when, three days later, they repeated the stunt in Milwaukee, except the cheeseheads got Yield start to finish? Yes. Yes I did. But fuck it, it was still worth the wait. And I can’t wait to do it again.

And next time, I’ll be happy with what I get.

Let us know what you think. Sound off in the comments, or have your say on our Facebook page. Or yell at us on Twitter.
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Pearl Jam Setlist I Wireless Center, Moline, IL, USA 2014, Lightning Bolt Tour

From the MoSS? Pit: Sharon Van Etten

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten and her band gave the crowd at Gabe’s a great show Oct. 13.

There was this one time at Gabe’s when things got kinda awkward. I want to tell you about it.

I was seeing Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. It was a great show: Ted and the band were rockin’ out, the crowd was sizable and into what was happening, and everyone was feeling good. And at some point between songs, Ted decided to tell some story about the long-running TV show Law & Order. And he even specified that he wanted to talk about the really early episodes.

To my mind, that was a good thing, because I really liked the episodes with Michael Moriarty. For one, his Ben Stone character wasn’t nearly as melodramatic as Jack McCoy. Two, the show didn’t feel it necessary that the DA’s office rack up a win-loss record that would rival Perry Mason; in fact, it seemed like Stone and Robinette were unable to get convictions on about a third of their cases, which led to some serious philosophical conversation on the courthouse steps between the defeated prosecution team and then Stone would flag a cab while Robinette stood there looking mad/sad and you could only imagine what sort of witticism DA Adam Schiff would have spouted had he been standing there.

adam schiffAdam Schiff (at right) was the best, by the way.

Anyway, for those of you not steeped in Law & Order trivia, Michael Moriarty pretty much talked his way out of his L&O role because he was angry that Janet Reno was critical of violence on TV and Moriarty felt that she was overstepping her boundaries and feared government censorship (or something like that). Producers cited his “erratic behavior” for his eventual dismissal, not Reno, but I think they were/are part of an elaborate cover-up!

So I decided this was the perfect time for me to yell the following: “FUCK JANET RENO!”

I didn’t stop to think about how that would sound as a lone voice coming from a crowd in a venue that isn’t exactly world-renowned for its acoustics. Not the criticisms of a former attorney general, but how what I said would get lost in translation, so to speak, as the sound waves went forward toward the stage.

So Ted Leo stops mid-sentence and says, “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh did someone just say FUCK TED LEO?”

Suddenly everyone’s head swung around to look at me. It felt a lot like this:

kids pointing and laughing

I screamed out “NOOOOOO! JANET RENO!” but it was too late. Killed the entire vibe. Ted finally says, “Ah never mind, I don’t want to tell the story now.” And everyone glared at me again and I pretty much died right then. Only thing I remember after that is having tinnitus for about a week because Gabe’s.

sharon van etten with guitarAnyway, I bring this up because as good as the Sharon Van Etten concert was at Gabe’s on Monday night, one of the main takeaways was how awkward it got for a moment or two.

And once again, we have a Music or Space Shuttle member to thank! Not me this time, though!

Before I give you the lowdown on how Sam got in trouble during the concert, I’ll quickly give you some thoughts about the evening in general.

We had a pretty sizable gang out for the show (seven of us, all told) and most of us were able to make our way to the very front of the crowd. I was right along the stage, in fact. The view was great, of course, and the sound was actually quite nice from that angle. Sharon and the band seemed to be in a good mood, talking about how Doug the guitarist was celebrating a birthday and how they enjoyed their pre-show meal at the Motley Cow. It wasn’t the longest show in the world but they played most of what I wanted to hear.

“Taking Chances” and “Break Me” are two of my favorite songs and they both sounded great. “Serpents” was pretty cool although I think there were some technical difficulties or something with Sharon’s gear as she shook her head a time or two and kinda toe-tapped her pedals in a slight show of frustration. It still had a great aggressive feel to it and really it’s the vocal in that song (the way she holds the words “my mind” in the chorus) that does it for me. “Afraid of Nothing” was a great start to the night; “Your Love Is Killing Me” ended the main set very well. We got a two-song encore that included a song that didn’t make the last record but not for lack of quality, based on the rendition we heard.

Sharon seems genuinely appreciative of the fans; we noticed this at her Pitchfork set in July as well. It’s a weird juxtaposition sometimes, hearing her happy moments of gratitude before heading back into songs that pull at heartstrings, but it’s a cool trait that we like about her.

The set by opener Tiny Ruins (what we caught of it, anyway) was good. A bit more subdued than what Sharon and her band do, but they seem rooted in the same philosophical vein. I liked what I heard and need to seek out some more.

Non-concert thing: I’m still not a big fan of Toppling Goliath putting everything they have into bottling, consequently taking Golden Nugget off the taps of Iowa City drinking establishments. Lagunitas is picking up the slack, though.

OK, so let’s talk about Sam.

I have been making a conscious effort to stay off my phone during shows anymore. Not completely, but I try to get any photos or videos out of the way in the first three songs (this is a common grace period that credentialed media have for shooting photos, the first three songs). I can get a few shots, perhaps get one song worth of video, and then put the phone away. Worked out for me at the Cure at Riot Fest, as they played “Fascination Street” second overall, the song I wanted to capture. So that’s what I did: took maybe 10 photos of Sharon during the first song, sent one of them to Todd with a report about the crowd, and that was that.

So during the third song (I believe), I was kinda bobbing my head to the music, eyes half closed, when I swore I heard Sharon sing, right in the middle of the verse, “Get off your phone!” I shook my head, wondering if I imagined that, then went back to being the solemn hipster in the front row.

So at song’s end, Sharon went on a bit of a rant about people engaging during shows. About being on cell phones during shows. About how people can take photos and videos if they want, she doesn’t care, but it really sounds like she does care, and again, if you want to be on your phone, go ahead and do that, just don’t stand up front and do it, let other people up there, OK rant over let’s play music again.

I do believe that a guy two spots to my left recorded the whole thing on his phone, so he could correct any creative license I’ve taken with my paraphrasing.

Needless to say, at this point I would not be fulfilling the request I received during the second song, via text from Jess (Todd’s better half), hoping for video of “Your Love Is Killing Me.” And that reluctance was hammered home later in the set, when Sharon AGAIN ranted about cell phone use. Jesus, I thought, who the fuck set her off?

So after the show ended, I turned around to chat with the others: Michelle, Travis and Annie, Sam and Devon. They were all in the vicinity of the front row (Michelle was next to me; everyone else was one or two “rows” back).

“So you know that cell phone rant?” Sam says. “That was me.”

What?

Apparently Sam was texting a friend, letting him/her (I never asked for clarification) know that Sharon’s set had just started and there was still time to get there to catch the lion’s share of the show. I’m guessing the glow from his phone illuminated Sam’s sexy mug in such a way that Sharon couldn’t help but notice. And when a guy like Sam isn’t paying attention to you, you let him know that he’s fucking up!

sharon van etten and sam

They were apologizing to each other at blurring speeds, apparently.

The story has a happy ending: Sharon hung out after the show, and Sam went over to apologize. He said she was apologetic herself by the time the conversation neared its end.

This isn’t the first time Sam has annoyed a musician in my presence at Gabe’s. Some 12 years ago (give or take) he and I were hanging out at Gabe’s to see the Donnas. I believe there were four bands on the bill, so there was plenty of time to kill.

This was in the golden age of coin-operated bar-top games like Trivia Whiz. Apparently Sam and I weren’t the only people who liked playing that game, as two of the Donnas (Donna R the smokin’ hot guitarist and Donna F the bass player) were back there playing. So we hovered, partly because two Donnas were playing but partly because we are trivia nerds.

So we’re watching over their shoulders and eventually Sam starts chiming in with answers. Of course he’s right every time, but it’s like when you’re playing solitaire and someone comes over and says “Duh! The 8 can go on that 9!” or something like that. You want to turn around and punch the guy in the seeds.

And Donna F the scary bassist gave a look that sort of conveyed that message. This photo of Donna F found on the Interwebs is pretty representative:

donna f

So perhaps out of guilt or perhaps as a way to flirt with Donna R, Sam ended up getting like $40 worth of quarters and gave them to the two Donnas playing Trivia Whiz, saying “If I’m going to blurt out answers I should at least pay for your games.” And much like his conciliatory conversation with Sharon, things worked out. They let us join in and it was good fun. The other two Donnas dropped by at some point, which was also pretty cool (I thought Donna A the singer was kinda cute or whatever). A little while later, they put on a really fun rock show.

I should clarify a couple of things: one, Sam didn’t really get $40 worth of quarters to play Trivia Whiz with the Donnas. He can tell you the exact amount in his inevitable defense statement in the comments of this post.

Second, I didn’t witness the Sharon conversation where they made up or whatever. I had already had my own conversation with Sharon during the show. Toward the end of the concert, she mentioned how she had a really shitty morning at the airport, where she and a grumpy airport worker had gotten into a bit of a spat. Sharon said she felt horrible about it but the airport worker kinda had it coming or something like that.

So it got kinda quiet and I seized my moment to interject, “What, was she on her phone or something?”

To which Sharon, to her credit, said without missing a beat, “No…but I did text a bunch of people about it.”

Good show.

From the MoSS? Pit: Pitchfork Music Festival

slowdive performing at pitchfork

Slowdive performing on the final day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park. It was so fucking great.

At the age of 40, I finally did all three days of a weekend-long music festival…Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park, to be specific. It can be summed up pretty much like this: I purchased and redeemed numerous drink tickets (the last batch handed in for Goose Island’s Sharon Van Etten signature brew); I ate and drank (mostly ate) my way up and down Randolph going to and from the fest; my back was killing me by Day 3; only one artist truly disappointed me; I’m still envious of my friend Denise’s view from her downtown home and appreciative of her hospitality when we (me, Travis, Annie, in this case) come to town; the band I really wanted to see surpassed my expectations to claim the honor of being my favorite act of the weekend.

What were my takeaways from the experience, which saw Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Kendrick Lamar headline the three days?

Despite being markedly shorter than the following two days, Friday was pretty much awesome, even without Death Grips.

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten and her band perform on the Red Stage.

I thought for sure Friday would not be nearly as special without Death Grips kicking things off. But it turned out to be the most consistently satisfying day. Factory Floor grooved the Blue Stage (which resembles the shady confines of The Grove at Lollapalooza). Sharon Van Etten performed a great set on one of the two larger stages. She couldn’t hide her glee in between songs, which presented an odd contrast to her vocal stylings, but anyway, she was wonderful, and I can’t wait to see her again in Iowa City come October.

Sun Kil Moon provided a nice soundtrack for kicking up our heels. Giorgio Moroder was an absolute home run, something I didn’t see coming. It was truly fun. (Weirdly, this was the only moment where I saw anything remotely resembling confrontation. I guess disco still pisses off some people.) I think Giorgio was neck-and-neck with Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke in terms of best conductor of the audience.

Had no idea what we’d get from Beck’s headliner set. The new album is good, but not sure it’s festival-mainstage kind of stuff. But we got a nice cross section of his catalog, delivered with great energy. I found videos of set opener “Devil’s Haircut” and megahit “Loser”; I was unable to find any videos of me nailing all the lyrics to “Get Real Paid.” I also didn’t get a usable photo of the 7-foot guy who nudged his way up by us in the crowd, towering over Denise. Oh well.

Service at The Haymarket was shitty after the festival on Friday.

Seriously. It sucked, and the food we eventually got was nothing to write home about (even though I guess that’s kind of what I’m doing right now).

Oh, you crazy kids in Twin Peaks…

They looked even younger than they probably are (the quartet’s collective age I’d estimate at 81). They had crowd surfers (which reminded me of shows from back when I was the same age as the Twin Peakers). One guy rocked out from a wheelchair (ankle injury, I guess). Another guy smashed his guitar and chucked it into the crowd. They were manic, they were fun enough, they were a good band to open the day. Greg Kot speaks highly of them in the video recap below.

Saturday probably had the biggest disappointments of the festival.

Cloud Nothings didn’t impress our party much; they became a running joke in our group because of how much Annie disliked their shit. (I might have the highest opinion of them, in that I enjoyed the first five songs and then found it a bit monotonous.) Denise and I took a big risk in skipping St. Vincent to head to the cozy Blue Stage to catch The Field and FKA Twigs, which, I’m sorry, was a terrible mistake. The Field was fine for chilling in the shade before making our move forward to get a good spot for FKA Twigs. The music is kinda cool, but her live act seems to rely mostly on slinky moves and diva attitude over anything resembling decent vocals. (I realize my opinion is counterbalanced by the shit I overheard in the crowd, such as “She’s so elegant, she’s so perfect, she’s beyond human!”)

We made it back to the other side of the park in time to catch one, maybe two St. Vincent songs from a distance. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Thankfully her entire set is on YouTube, which you (and I) can watch below.

Some people might have been disappointed that Pusha T had to play a truncated set since his DJ didn’t show up or whatever.

Tune-Yards live > Tune-Yards on record.

That’s not meant as a dig at Tune-Yards’ recorded work, although I don’t find myself listening to Tune-Yards for an hour straight very often, if ever. But I could have watched and listened to the live act for three hours. So much life in that performance, and not just limited to Merrill. It was easily my second-favorite set of the weekend, surpassing Sharon VE and Beck.

I haven’t found any YouTube videos that really capture this, so for now, take my word for it.

My Donnelly’s Pub t-shirt was quite popular on Saturday.

Three times I was stopped so that someone could give me props for the shirt. Of course, Travis one-upped me by having four people compliment him on Sunday for his Black Angels shirt; one guy even handed him a strand of drink tickets just to show him proper respect. This happens to him a lot, or so I’ve heard.

Dum Dum Girls were great; the bass player secretly loves me (I’m sure)

We got a late start to Sunday, catching just the tail end of DIIV and missing Speedy Ortiz completely. After sitting through some of Isaiah Rashad’s set at the Blue Stage, we finally got our closest spot for a set, about four rows back for Dum Dum Girls. One of the coolest acts, and certainly very easy to look at. But seriously, the music is great, and it came through in this energetic performance.

Deafheaven’s vocalist (George Clarke) is perhaps the most intriguing character from the whole fest

The dude comes out all buttoned up in black, looking quite straight-edge or something, and absolutely takes over the entire park. Standing at stage’s edge, directing the crowd with rapid hand gestures, placing one boot upon the monitor and going into a tense crouch, and then unleashing THAT scream. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch him work. But as I said in my Best of 2013 album list on Facebook, I love Deafheaven’s music but am not a big fan of the vocals. Seeing him live was worth a few songs, but I thought it more important to stake out space for Dum Dum Girls rather than stay for the whole set. Still, cool to see.

Slowdive was the best

They might not be as beloved as My Bloody Valentine in the shoegaze universe, but Slowdive put out three wonderful albums in the ’90s, and the songs translate live better than MBV does, if you ask me. The quintet filled up the outdoor setting with ease, with layer upon layer of guitar washing over a crowd that, truth be told, probably wasn’t all that familiar with the band coming in. (I mentioned to Travis that Slowdive was the main band I wanted to see on the whole bill; a woman in front of me said “If I block your view, just let me know. I’ve never heard of this band before.”) We had a great view and the band met my expectations. I really miss the ’90s, and not just because of grunge heroes like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. The shoegaze bands are marvelous; Todd and I even kicked in some cash to Kickstarter to help fund the making of a documentary on the subject, “Beautiful Noise.” The film is making the festival rounds, and we should have our DVD in the near future. (Screening party!)

Anyway, here’s some Slowdive.

Real Estate was as expected, which is to say very good

They are good at what they do, and at times it sounds spectacular. Sounded good as the sun got low in the sky. Here’s a taste:

What did others think?

Neutral Milk Hotel was to Annie as Slowdive was to me. Denise and Annie loved Grimes. Travis is still loving Sharon Van Etten, and he and Annie loved Deafheaven. Our entire group loved Slowdive. It’s safe to say Denise did not love Neneh Cherry and absolutely loved Giorgio. Dum Dums went over well with everyone. The hard cider option was much appreciated, as were the Big Ass Lemonades and Big Ass Arnold Palmers.

Outside the park: Beer Bistro was the best: food, drink, service. So was the place where Denise and I got nachos for what felt like our ninth meal of the day on Saturday; don’t remember the name of the joint. Kaiser Tiger was a cool place to hang out right across from the park, but unless you’re really hungry or have six people in your party, don’t get the large order of fries. An entire cookie sheet stacked with fries arrived at our table. Beggars Pizza was really good but it was quite an ordeal to get the damn pizza. Meli Cafe and Lou Mitchell’s served top-notch breakfast, each in its own way. You already read my feelings about Haymarket.

I definitely preferred the Pitchfork setting over Lolla. I feel like I was able to get to see almost everything I wanted, thanks to the more compact structure. And even with way fewer artists on the bill, I feel it is a much more impressive lineup than what Lolla is going with this year.

I’d love to return to Union Park in 2015. Who’s with me?

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: May 2014

may 14

Side A : Todd’s‘ Picks

Side B : Chris’ Picks

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: March 2012

(All of these artists will perform at Mission Creek Festival, March 27-April 1 in Iowa City.)

Side A : Chris’ Picks

1. Bowerbirds, “In the Yard”

2. The Poison Control Center, “Torpedoes on Tuesday”

3. Black Milk, “Give the Drummer Sum”

4. Little Scream, “Cannons”

5. Dirty Beaches, “Lord Knows Best”

Side B : Todd’s Picks

1. Magnetic Fields, “Andrew in Drag”

2. The War On Drugs, “Baby Missiles”

3. Oberhofer, “HEART”

4. Gardens and Villa, “Orange Blossom”

5. Sharon Van Etten,We are Fine”

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: January

Frankie Rose “Know Me”

Tanlines “Brothers”

Body Language “Social Studies”

Elite Gymnastics “Omamori”

Islands “This is Not a Song”

School of Seven Bells “LaFaye”

Chairlift “Sidewalk Safari”

Cloud Nothings “Stay Useless”

Sharon Van Etten “Serpents

First Aid Kit “EmmyLou”