Posts Tagged ‘Evan Dando’

MINUS THE BEAR / VASCO DA GAMA – Liverpool, Kazimier, 28/04/2013

June 4, 2013

Ah, Vasco Da Gama. You have the prescription for the daily blues. Liverpool’s latest progenitors of cerebrally addictive math-pop have something pretty special on their hands: specifically, great songs. ‘Brigadiers’ sees iridescent guitars shooting beams of rippling light across cavernous, rumbling rhythms, while John Crawford’s plaintive keening keeps the glorious mess on an even keel. Meanwhile, the tension-and-release tactics of ‘Them Teeth’ show what lessons can be learned from Faraquet and Tera Melos whilst creating wholly nifty singalongs. It’s all interspersed with charmingly self-effacing banter about watching Top 100 Nu-Metal Anthems countdowns on telly, and is utterly, wonderfully ace. More of this sort of thing, please.

It’s fitting that Vasco De Gama are playing as support to Minus The Bear – anyone remember the Seattle quintet dazzling their way to a certain level of indie prominence ten years ago? Theirs was a veritable ménage à trois between fret-tapping frenetics, glistening electronics and solemnly earnest college rock; manna from heaven for studious indie rock types everywhere. Not that we hear too much of that stuff tonight – ‘Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse’ and a stirring ‘Spritz!!! Spritz!!!’ are the only cuts from 2002 debut ‘Highly Refined Pirates’. Understandably, the majority of the set is culled from latest opus ‘Infinity Overhead’, with the likes of ‘Steel And Blood’ feeling rather more muscular under the lights of the Kazimier than on record.

Jake Snider is genial enough, if not overtly communicative, and his understated wail (think Finch from ‘American Pie’ attempting to channel Evan Dando) sure feels impassioned. But he’s largely secondary to the roar of the band, particularly on grandiose slow dances like ‘Diamond Lightning’ and the cut-loose coda of ‘Drilling’. They may no longer be the math-rockin’ scene leaders of yore, but Minus The Bear still add up to a darn good night out.

(Originally published by The Fly, 03/05/2013)

A change would do you good

October 14, 2010

Recently I’ve been reading Rock And Roll Cage Match (ed. Sean Manning), a collection of jovial essays in which the writer is asked to invent or describe a rivalry between two bands, and then pick a winner. Perhaps inevitably, it’s largely composed of self-confessed false dichotomies where half the fun comes from the ludicrous reasons as to why each artist should be at odds. It probably says something about the WHTB mindset that I love a good debate, so what better than a collection of intelligent-but-ludicrous arguments?

My favourite imaginary rucks thus far have come courtesy of Richard Hell (Rolling Stones vs Velvet Underground), Elizabeth Goodman (Guided By Voices vs Pavement) and Tom Breihan (Jay-Z vs Nas). The part that’s intrigued me most, however,  has come not from an actual debate, but rather an aside. Surprisingly, it’s part of Whitney Pastorek‘s sublimely daft bout between Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston that’s really set the cogs whirring.

Discussing what you’ll recognise as Houston’s all-time classic/omnipresent saccharine cackfest (delete as appropriate), Pastorek provides a winning argument for the power of an oft-used musical device:

The Catharsis: the glorious boom of a key change that occurs three quarters of the way through I Will Always Love You, anchoring what is, with apologies to The White Stripes, the best Dolly Parton cover in history. The Catharsis is in effect elsewhere throughout Houston’s career… but the modulation she pulls off in I Will Always Love You is perfection embodied.

That’s exactly what a good key change should do. Admittedly I wasn’t even thinking about key changes when I’d started reading the piece, but by this stage I was sat bolt upright, nodding, with stern features and a fist raised triumphantly. You’re darn right to use the word ‘catharsis’, Whitney Pastorek. Switching key at any point during a song, and pulling it off, is a tricky feat… but save it for a chorus (particularly the final chorus) and you’re onto a surefire winner. Even fucking Westlife knew that, for fuck’s sake. It’s a useful weapon in the pop arsenal. And like it or not, that Whitney H number’s a pretty fucking good example of how to wield it.

Pastorek goes on so enthusiastically that it seems pointless to paraphrase:

I fail to find a way to break this down scientifically, or even articulately; all I can hope is that you have experienced a great key change at some point in your life and you know the rush, the transcendent ping that goes off in your brain and brings emotions you barely knew you had rushing to the surface and spilling out all over the place for no good reason whatsoever. A good key change can save your life.

As someone who has been close to spontaneously breaking into tears on hearing a great key change at a live show, I know exactly what she means (YES, beer was involved. NO, I don’t think that matters). So with that in mind, here’s some of WHTB’s favourite key changes in pop. Nothing so crass as a top five… just some good ‘uns (okay, five), avoiding yer Hey Judes and soforth.

Feel free to suggest your faves.

1. Dance, Dance, Dance – The Beach Boys

A barnstorming classic from the non-surfing surf faves. Dig the way the song suddenly lurches into a higher key halfway through the final verse – and in a song that’s barely got time for verses, that’s a special way of preparing you for one last extra-fun take on the hook. On the dancefloor, that’s the bit that gets your toes from twitching to out and out tapping.

2. Crazy Crazy Nights – KISS / Town Bike

KISS opt for a stranger tactic – after the second chorus, just before the solo, there’s suddenly a brief burst of chorus in a higher key. Why? No-one knows. It’s fucking awesome though. And as a special treat, I’ve linked Town Bike’s free download version, which is so darn good that I now struggle to listen to the original.  Get on it.

3. Summerteeth – Wilco

After two lovely verses of cryptic, countrified pop, Wilco switch key for a mellotron solo that seems to have wandered in from another band. Once that’s over, we’re still in this new key for a final, breezily- plaintive verse and a gorgeous “oo-ooh, aa-aah” backing vocal. Which is frankly ruined by attempting to spell it. Just go and have a listen; you owe it to your ears.

4. Alison’s Starting To Happen – The Lemonheads

Despite the perky pace of the tune, Evan still uses a sleepy drawl to tell us of an unexpected crush on a friend, and all’s good. But for one final verse, as he finally gets his head around the nonsense of the situation, the song lifts in time for the exclamation “this world is topsy-turvy!” From thereon in things get rather more frantic – and yeh, pretty fun too.

5. Bright Yellow Gun – Throwing Muses

Kristin Hersh specialises in fragmented poetry and creepy melodies, even on full-pelt alt rockers like this. The change is superbly effective; suddenly the tension’s cranked up and a pretty-fucking-vital-already song suddenly becomes essential. Ace.

Smudge: The Majesty Of Tom Morgan

May 25, 2010

“It’s not the tracks, it’s where they’re leading” – Tenderfoot by Tom Morgan

We all know life’s a bitch, and it can be enough of a drag struggling through from day to day. Music’s much the same. How much time do you spend subjected to other people’s tastes and wondering to yourself, ‘when will this shite end?’ But every now and again, both life and music throw you a bone. It might not be much, but that bone can still taste like manna from the gods.

WHTB is usually skeptical of events like Liverpool’s Sound City festival – essentially a week of hip-but-not-necessarily-exciting bands coming here who might not otherwise – but this year it came with a delightful bonus in the form of Australian indie-pop-punkers Smudge.

Now, you may not have heard of Smudge, and there’s no reason to feel like you should have done either. They never attained an especially significant degree of fame, and if they were influential at all, it was barely outside of their own back yard. Their only modicum of celebrity comes from singer Tom Morgan‘s songwriting partner and de facto foil. Anyone familiar with the works of Evan Dando?

Back in 1991, the Lemonheads were touring their fourth album Lovey (also their major label debut, and their first lp not to feature founder member/frontman Ben Deily) in Australia. Dando and Morgan were introduced to each other by Nic Dalton, founder of Sydney’s Half A Cow Records, and the pair hit it off immediately. The next time they met, several months later, they began tossing musical and lyrical phrases back at each other. Eventually they wrote a song called It’s A Shame About Ray.

Dando and Morgan would also collaborate on Bit Part for the Lemonheads’ fifth album, before going on to co-write at least half of its follow-up (the under-appreciated Come On Feel The Lemonheads). Morgan speaks fondly of the process, describing it thus in 2005:

“It was never like a business arrangement, it was a product of hanging out together. We always have one guitar, we never have two guitars because people get caught up in your own little thing. So, you have to have one guitar and you hand it back and forth… Otherwise you’re playing over the top of each other, there’s no focus”

It’s strange to imagine one of the 90s’ most famously loopy rock stars forming such a disciplined partnership, especially with someone on the other side of the world, but even now the pair continue to write together or for each other (albeit sporadically).

So that’s why you might have heard Tom Morgan’s work before. He was never invited to join the Lemonheads, however, because Dando knew that Smudge was already a going concern. Indeed, by the time Come On Feel… was released, Smudge had released a series of EPs and were preparing to release their first long-player Manilow on Half A Cow.

This, and the three albums that followed, demonstrate that Morgan was more than just a source of material for his famous friend. The sound may be scruffier and the delivery scrappier, but Smudge’s heart is firmly on its sleeve – passion and sheer glee plainly audible for all to hear, and perfectly encapsulated within two-and-a-half-minute pop songs. It’s easy to see why they were much beloved of the slacker congnoscenti, since their songs fizz with the same guitar buzz that powered the likes of Superchunk, Eric’s Trip or Guided By Voices. For those bands, the sound is part of the selling tool – the lo-fi hiss that defined a generation of American indie rockers. But in the hands of this Australian trio, it merely helps to propel songs that are by turns funny, upbeat and (occasionally) resigned to their fate. There’s a warmth and… well, yeh, a humanity in their snappy, crackled pop that you rarely find in any band. Some days it’s positively reassuring to know there are folks out there who ever made records like these.

So it was great to see them turn up in Liverpool, at a free Saturday afternoon show with a BBQ. WHTB geeked out sufficiently to earn some personal dedications (and a worrying sense of fanboydom… but hey, that’s what this blog’s all about, so best quit worrying about it, eh?).

Smudge on an uncharacteristically sunny day in Liverpool

They were utterly wonderful, from the opening breeze of Ingrown to their tribute to one of “Australia’s greatest bands” (their take on You Am I’s Berlin Chair). Tom is still chirpy and sweet, Adam’s melodic basslines still brighten up even the perkiest of pop songs, and Alison is still simultaneously the sweetest of presences and a joy to watch behind the kit. In short, Smudge are still great.

They were going to play Divan, but I asked for Don't Want To Be Grant McLennan. GAH!

Fire Records has recently reissued two Smudge albums, including the classic Manilow. You’re well advised to start there. Then investigate Tom’s work with Nic Dalton in Sneeze, as well as the various other great bands the pair have been involved with over the years.

Peace out. x