This weekend is a terrific one in Colorado music.
First up, on Friday night I am hosting a Fuel/Friends House Concert & Dinner with Alex Dezen of The Damnwells! The Damnwells are a band that I listen to a lot, over the last eight years or so, and I never get tired of them. I may not talk about them as often as they merit but every damn time I put their albums on, I marvel at the rich romanticism and melodic power in Alex Dezen’s voice and songs. “Forgive me baby, I’m so full of hearts / swelled up with sadness and broken in parts.”
Kung Fu Grip Kiss – The Damnwells
Originally the band was from Brooklyn and released my favorite album of theirs, Air Stereo, on Rounder/Epic Records in 2006, and many other tremendous songs that I have followed closely over the last decade – oh, and that great documentary about them that sprinted across the indie film circuit a few years back.
I’m thrilled that Alex is heading across country and stopping to do a special, intimate house show for Fuel/Friends readers on Friday night! For the house address and all the good details, check the FB invite, and I hope to see you there. The dinner part is full, but there is still room for folks at the show.
Then on Saturday & Sunday, you’ll find me at the Denver Music Summit again! This type of community-oriented musician education and creative vitality-infusion is one of the best things that our city has done in various iterations over the years, and I am happy to be a part of it once again.
I will be speaking on a panel for musicians Saturday morning with the luminous Storm “Hey Now” Gloor, professor of Arts & Media at University of Colorado Denver (and keeper of some of the best/nerdiest spreadsheets about music that you will ever see). We will be talking about branding yourself as an artist (AT TEN AM SORRY) and tips for reaching out to music blogs. You should preregister for the Saturday & Sunday workshops – it’s only ten bucks for all the sessions.
Saturday night I was thinking of telling a story again with The Narrators and friends like Will Johnson and Dave Bazan, but buckled because my brain is too addled lately. I do believe in the power of public storytelling (especially around music themes!), and there are some wonderful storytellers involved, so come on out for that!
The whole weekend of musical guests for the Denver Music Summit reads like a Fuel/Friends House Concerts hall of fame. If you’re reading this post, you’ll like it.
Some of the friends in town / playing the Summit include PHOX, The Changing Colors, Ark Life (the new endeavor of Jesse from These United States), Josiah Johnson of The Head and The Heart, Chimney Choir, Yonnas Abraham of Pirate Signal, Dave Bazan, Will Johnson (Centro-matic), Joe Pug, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Esme Patterson (Paper Bird) – and many more. Whew.
GIVEAWAY: I have two full all-access passes to give away for the Denver Music Summit weekend! Please email me with “Denver Music Summit” in the subject line and some good reasons about why you deserve it & how you’ll use it, and I will judiciously find good homes for them.
Full schedule details for the Summit here. See you all out there this weekend!
I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism. I’ve been asking other writer-friends to define the word for me, so I can add to my functional understanding of its complexities and what different people perceive it to mean. I’ve asked friends earnestly if, really, shouldn’t I should try to develop some cynicism, a shell, a coating, a veneer? I’ve thought about the difference between a familiarity with the nastiness of life, a healthy respect for the damage-possibilities, and the choices we have within that maelstrom to live strong and brave and beautiful anyways.
I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism in music. You don’t have to have been a reader long to know that my heart tends to bleed everywhere. I love those shiny songs and mindless songs and fractured songs, but the ones that seem to stick with me the longest are the ones that are the most bald-faced in their lack of cynicism, in the way they take advantage of the unique medium of music to assert …some sort of hope, some wrestling with life, some refusal to lay back in the muck and let it swallow us. It’s the reason that I picked this quote from Nick Hornby’s Songbook to be on the top of this blog since the beginning:
“I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there’s something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It’s the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part…”
I’ve been trying to write this post since July, when I went to the Timber! Outdoor Music Festival. For the second summer festival in a row, the set from Noah Gundersen was the one that made me sit in a stunned silence on the dirty ground. Noah and his siblings and his band amaze me in everything they do. There is something foolishly generous and wholly beautiful in all of his music, and in their performance of it.
That Saturday night in July, for the final set as the ground vibrated and the sweat of the day dried, the show suddenly stumbled into a clearing of something magnificent and unvarnished. It was something so pure and strong that it almost doesn’t make sense when I try to explain it to someone else, but that dissolved me so that when it was over I couldn’t speak to anyone at all, and all I could do was head directly to my top bunk in the yurt and cinch myself all the way tight into my sleeping bag. I needed a cocoon around me, warmth to stop the shivers, like my skin had been peeled off.
It happened when they launched in to this song, and specifically around 1:09.
Garden – Noah Gundersen
I have read that you have to be careful after rescuing a starving person not to give them too much rich food too fast because it will overwhelm their systems. I thought of that when everything cut out during that set under the pines, as Noah and Abby together sang: “…but wait. Wait. See how the morning breaks; it’s the simplest of love songs ….but it’s all our hearts can take.” There was so much generosity there.
In that moment, in unintentional defiance of cynicism, I was obliterated.
Noah’s live performances always feel like the summation of things I forgot. As they sang this song, I sat there and I thought something blazingly bright and clear and frustratingly ambiguous. I found myself thinking, “Because this moment in this song exists: …________.” For four months I haven’t been able to finish articulating the second half of that equation.
Last night in Boulder I slogged it out with Noah over some whiskeys and I tried to finish wrestling out the rest of what is true in the unfinished second half of that equation, and how it has been chasing me for months. Noah smiled and he said, “but I think that’s the thing, the not filling in that second half. That ambiguity is beautiful.”
For you it might be another song, and for me it was this one, on that night, in a campground by a river in Washington State. It was the moon. It was the certainty of something ineffable, that I have not yet forgotten.
It reminds me of some of the final lines in the magnificent book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, her story of her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the southern border of Washington state, after a shit-kickingly hard period in her life. She writes at the end of her trek about sitting on a bench by the Bridge of the Gods, finally accomplished in what she set out to do in those months, despite the seeming-insurmountable difficulty. She writes about how all the blissful things yet to come in her life were unknown to her as she sat there bloodied and bruised and strong from the miles and miles she had walked. It was all unknown to her — “everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true.”
Now that’s a statement borne out of whatever the opposite of cynicism is; hard struggle and finding your way back to the person that lives under the bruise of life hovering on the surface, maybe. It resonates with me, and so does the purity in this song.
It’s the simplest of love songs, but it’s all our hearts can take.
[top image from Timber! by Jason Tang]
Last year when Typhoon was staying at my house in Colorado Springs, they taped two mics to the top of my Dyson vacuum cleaner and set up a tiny recording studio in my downstairs half-bath. I was at work but they sent me photo proof, and my humble bathroom has felt blessed by the divine ever since.
You & I can finally hear the results of that afternoon — most excellently a part of an entire album of Portland bands covering the Beach Boys’ 1967 album Smiley Smile. It also features the delicious Fuel/Friends house show alums Radiation City (who I don’t think recorded anything at my house but WHO KNOWS), as well as other Portland talents.
The whole Portland Smiles album is for sale at Tender Loving Empire, along with a beer koozie that if they send to me I promise to use in that bathroom. For them.
At the Meadowgrass Music Festival in Colorado’s Black Forest in May, right before the fires ravaged the surrounding area but left the festival grounds untouched, we brought three of the members of Dawes into the small historic chapel where we recorded The Barr Brothers last year (and Desirae Garcia also this year).
There is a blissfully-simple openness to this chapel session — it’s just the three guys, one guitar, and a whole hell of a lot of unjaded harmonies in that echoey room with charming folk-art paintings on the adobe walls.
All of the Dawes songs I have been drawn to the most over the years are the ones with a vulnerable, wide-open heart on display, and harmonies to match. There is something in that sound that resonates with this (vulnerable, wide-open) heart, and today is a perfect time for me to post this. Sometimes opening yourself up to being vulnerable sucks, but Dawes makes it sound so damn alluring.
This sort of golden, expansive, late Sixties Laurel Canyon sound is how I love Dawes best, and I was thrilled to get to sit there while this happened and now to share it with you. I was interested to read of the band’s connections with both Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello on this record (?!) and the resulting songs wouldn’t sound out of place alongside either of those guys’ output.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that you probably should not ever listen to this while sitting in your darkened living room alone with a glass of something amber. All the ghosts, all the other paths you took instead, all the aches — they will accost you. And, of course, this might be alright. But be warned that this is the best kind of sweet and plaintive and sad killer.
Those harmonies. I mean, COME ON.
Hey Lover (Blake Mills)
With a chorus that will stick in your head for weeks, this song also has charming lyrics like “I wanna raise with you and watch our younglings hatch / fuckin’ make the first letters of their first names match.” As our sound guy Conor told me later regarding that line: “A well placed fuckin’ is such a treat.” I agree.
Blake Mills used to be in the forerunner band to Dawes with Taylor Goldsmith (a band called Simon Dawes), so this is a charming choice of hybrid-cover.
ZIP: DAWES CHAPEL SESSION
The first time I heard Edmund Wayne, I was driving across Central California in the summertime.
I remember it was one of those long two-lane highways where the center line flicking its yellow bursts can be mesmerizing, and the rows and symmetrical rows of crops and orchards open up off into the distance on either side of you, so far you can’t see the end of each row, and then you pass it and it’s gone.
This is similarly mesmerizing music that weaves and curls around your ears when you listen, in a very hypnotic, elastic way. Frontman Curt Krause has quite the range on him, and I can’t wait to hear him sing with that voice bouncing off my wood floors on Sunday, December 15. We’re planning ahead, but mark your calendars — the band is touring through some of these Western United States, braving the snows of December, and I look forward to giving them a warm welcome all the way from Seattle.
To The Bugs On My Ceiling (with River Giant) – Edmund Wayne
(from the Fuel/Friends Springtime mix 2013)
Denver’s much buzzed-about Covenhoven will open the show. Joel Van Horne (previously of Denver’s Carbon Choir) recorded and named this record after his family’s cabin in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. There is a kind of spare and haunting melodic power in his songs that has garnered him comparisons to Blind Pilot and Gregory Alan Isakov, not bad company to be in.
The show is Sunday evening, December 15. Let’s all warm up together, there will be a fire in the fireplace, and maybe let’s have some hot toddys. I’m predicting magic.
In honor of a completely amazing evening that I spent yesterday with Adam Duritz (pictured partially above, and no — I haven’t stopped smiling yet), I went back tonight and re-uploaded one of my favorite live recordings ever of Counting Crows.
In August of 1993, they played the new AAA Records & Radio Convention at Boulder’s Fox Theatre. I talked to Adam about it last night and he remembers that show fondly. You can read my story about this show and download the soundboard recording by following the link below, but know I wore this cassette tape out then, and in listening to it again tonight it still holds all that magic in it for me.
DOWNLOAD: COUNTING CROWS IN BOULDER, AUGUST 1993 (soundboard)
The “amen” title of this year’s seasonal autumn mix is not a reverential reference to the mix itself, but a word that rose up on its own in two different songs, unplanned as I made the playlist. In the same way that 2011′s (super sad; sorry about that, guys) mix congealed into its own theme of rivers, bones, empty beds, and gospel backing vocals, this year’s mix took on a theme of richly robust strings and the word “amen” popping up all over.
First, there is the amen at the end of Volcano Choir’s “Alaskans” — a sampling of Charles Bukowski reading his poem The Shower, and struggling over the final lines, ending with “amen.” Then a few songs later, Tyler Lyle wends his way to another kind of amen — a blessing of sorts, as he sings about youth and aging and wanting to live forever.
Of all the words I could have lifted out of a song to name this mix, that one word “amen” seems to fit the most. Fall always feels like a bit of a benediction to me; a closing thank you and fiery brilliant last gasp to what the summer was, a preparing for the thick silence and the warm wool blankets of winter.
(amen.) – The Fuel/Friends Autumn Mix 2013
While You’re Carrying The Weight – Patrick Dethlefs
Patrick is one of Colorado’s best gems, and this song is the title track off his new EP. There is a weighty, elegant compassion radiating through it, and it makes me somehow grateful – and breathless.
The Shining – Badly Drawn Boy
While the amens were accidental, when I started listening for this mix to coalesce, I wanted all of the songs with the strings, and that bluish-purple shine that could look like either gathering twilight or a healing bruise.
Alaskans – Volcano Choir
This album, all of it: flawless soundtrack of this season. I picked this track narrowly over “Byegone,” but it was suuuuper close. Ultimately it was the heartbreaking Bukowski sample that did it for me, because: CHRIST.
Amsterdam – Gregory Alan Isakov
Perhaps it is because Colorado totally wins autumn-time, what with all our yellow aspens and such, but this mix this year is especially dense with Colorado songwriters. Greg is obviously one of our finest; everything he makes, for me, is redolent of this season. From his stunning new “rambler’s folky manifesto” album, The Weatherman.
Barside – PHOX
All the time, still cannot get enough of Monica’s honeyed voice. Their chapel session is in the pipeline, and I can’t wait to have more music from them to listen to. This song feels like falling asleep sitting up.
Small Plane (NPR garden version) – Bill Callahan
There is a simple, stark straightforwardness in this song from Bill’s new album Dream River, a view of relationships with others that I find real and appealing. “I always went wrong in the same place / where the river splits towards the sea,” he confides, but then the lyrics delve into a mutual wresting of control from each other. All those different paths our lives could follow; “I really am a lucky man.”
My Search Party – Covenhoven
Joel Van Horne of Colorado named his new musical project after his family cabin, Covenhoven, in rural Wyoming, and created an independent symphony of a record around the concept of that place for him. This song stopped me in everything I was doing when I first heard it. I still draw in my breath sharply and hold it for the whole first verse.
Salt Year – Chris Bathgate
I’m just choking on a salt year, when sugar’s all I’ve longed for. I should live in salt for leaving you behind. Mixed metaphors, same ideas, terrific song.
Silent Passage – Bob Carpenter
This is a song from the early Seventies that I’d never heard until recently, and I think I hear Emmylou Harris on backing vocals? Golden sun, long roads, and a restless spirit, this song.
Young Men (demo) – Tyler Lyle
For my money, this young man is writing some of the very very best songs right now: wry and clever and believing and wide open, all at once. We just want to live forever, we are sorry we will never, amen.
Come On, Illinois – Houndmouth
A calescent, fast-rising band from Kentucky that makes me want to watch Last Waltz a few more times. I saw these guys in Boulder this summer and, man, for some fresh-faced kids, they can joyfully wail with the best of ‘em.
Rules Of The Game (b-side) – Typhoon
I still want to wrestle out what the new Typhoon record means to me (hint: a lot), and how seeing them live recently was one of the most jaw-dropping shows I have seen in years. But for now — we will sit quietly and soak in the loveliness of this song which could totally be an a-side but is a b-side because Typhoon has more talent than they know what to do with. This song fits seamlessly in to White Lighter, even repeating melodies and certain turns of phrase.
The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve
This classic came on shuffle recently and those STRINGS. I have it on repeat so many days lately. I will always love the lyric, “and I hope you’re thinking of me / as you lay down on your side.” So …simple. A heartbreaker, this song.
The Orchids (Psychic TV cover) – Califone
I saw Califone the other night in a little coffee shop near the railroad tracks in Colorado Springs. I had never heard much of their music before, just knowing them by reputation mostly. I sat there with an awed half-smile on my face the whole time, hand touched to my lips, an unsettled and deeply-pleased feeling on me all at once, in the best possible way.
Mine – Spirits of the Red City
Spirits of the Red City has been haunting me pleasantly for a few months now. Originally a loose collective from Minneapolis, but now sort of related to Denver by blood (since Denver’s Collectible Records just released their new record Jula), we welcome them.
Dying Now – Noah & Abby Gundersen
One of the finest, truest duos together, this brother and sister detonate the emotional heavy artillery, but make it so smooth that you almost don’t notice until you look down and a chunk is missing.
Ghost, Again – Rayland Baxter
My friend Jon recommended I listen to this artist, and whoaa I am so glad I did. Close your eyes for this one, and just let it pierce through. “I nearly made it to the end of the road.”
3 Rounds and a Sound (iTunes session) – Blind Pilot
I recently reminded myself how this is a perfect album, and this is an exquisite version of a perfect song. “I hope we dance tonight before we get it wrong / and the seasons will change us new, but you’re the best I’ve known, and you know me.”
Can I Sleep In Your Arms Tonight (Willie Nelson) – Phosphorescent
I’ve been laced-in with fast, tight stitches in a Phosphorescent cocoon lately.
This song is on here rather than the completely, abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous version of “Wolves” from St. Pancras Church that is coming out on the bonus live disc for Muchacho (Oct 29) for two reasons. One, all of us can agree that autumn is the best time to start up that snuggly sleeping-in-someone’s-arms business, aside from the sticky summer heat. Two, I am so not able to write about Wolves right now. So many thoughts. Preorder that bonus disc and we will talk later.
In the meantime, snuggle with Matthew Houck and Willie under that quilt. It feels good.
[cover art design, as usual, by the tremendous Ryan Hollingsworth, from my picture last weekend at Mueller State Park, aspen-gazing.]
For their Fall 2013 tour together that JUST STARTED, they have each picked a song of the others’ to record for a split single. I am pleased to be able to premiere these songs for you all, to entice you further into their winsome grandeur.
STREAM (since Yahoo broke my embedded player)
Waking Hour (Vandaveer) – Joe Pug
Call It What You Will (Joe Pug) – Vandaveer
The original Vandaveer song that Joe picked is from their wonderful 2011 record Dig Down Deep, one of my favorites of 2011. The Joe song turned lush by Vandaveer comes from his original debut EP, 2008′s Nation of Heat.
I’ve had the privilege of having both of these artists in my chapel sessions and house shows, and I just came across an old interview I did with Joe Pug what feels like 1,000 years ago. It remains one of my favorite interviews I’ve done, because Joe’s brain is amazing.
See: We promised too much and we gave it too soon: The Joe Pug Interview (7/10/09).
Then go out to one of these shows, and hug them all for me:
JOE PUG FALL TOUR 2013
Oct 8 Albuquerque, NM–Low Spirits *
Oct 9 Phoenix, AZ–The Rhythm Room *
Oct 10 San Diego, CA–The Soda Bar *
Oct 11 Los Angeles, CA–The Satellite *
Oct 12 San Francisco, CA–Cafe DuNord *
Oct 13 Felton, CA–Don Quixote’s *
Oct 14 Sacramento, CA–Harlow’s *
Oct 16 Eugene, OR–Sam Bond’s Garage *
Oct 17 Portland, OR–The Doug Fir *
Oct 18 Vancouver, BC–Electric Owl *
Oct 19 Seattle, WA–The Crocodile *
Oct 20 Bellingham, WA–The Green Frog *
Oct 21 Moscow, ID–Mikey’s *
Oct 22 Boise, ID–Neurolux *
Oct 23 Salt Lake City, UT–The State Room *
Oct 25 Denver, CO–The Larimer Lounge *
Oct 26 Kansas City, MO–The Record Bar *
Nov 5 Milwaukee, WI–Linneman’s
Nov 6 Iowa City, IA–Gabe’s #
Nov 7 Minneapolis, MN–7th Street Entry #
Nov 8 Chicago, IL–Lincoln Hall #
Nov 9 Indianapolis, IN–Do317 Lounge #
Nov 10 Akron, OH–Musica #
Nov 11 Newport, KY–Southgate House #
Nov 12 Columbus, OH–Rumba Cafe #
Nov 13 Nashville, TN–The Stone Fox #
Nov 14 Louisville, KY–Zanzabar #
Nov 15 Champaign, IL #
Nov 16 St. Louis, MO–The Firebird #
Nov 18 Fayetteville, AR–George’s Majestic #
Nov 20 Tulsa, OK–The Vanguard #
Nov 21 Norman, OK–Opolis #
Nov 22 Houston, TX–Fitzgerald’s #
Nov 23 Austin, TX–The Parish #
* With Vandaveer
# With Sera Cahoone
[top photo taken by Todd Roeth -- I believe in the orchard outside my house! Second photo I bet by Sarah Law, though I have no confirmation of this. I have damn talented friends all around.]
“Life is wide,” Will Johnson told me, long past midnight at my kitchen table on a work night, a row of empty bottles between us. His eyes flash brightly as he listens to my stories, and I to his. My heart was ground-up meat the night he was in town, and even though my stories had nothing to do with anyone he knew, he elbowed his way into some truths with me as protectively as if he’d known me for years. And indeed, I felt as if he had.
This chapel session similarly feels summoned from some sort of ether that I completely understand, although the songs and the stories are all his. There’s a shining acuity, and this puncture-wound freshness in lyrics like, “and you were laughing that transparent laugh of one with a real broke-ass heart.” Will writes amazing, desolate songs with so much space and thought in them. They are the kinds of torn and weary homilies that I love from folks like Townes Van Zandt. His voice echoes off all the walls in the church and sinks straight into the cracks in me.
If you haven’t met Will yet, he fronts the bands Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, and also has been part of some rad collaboration projects that I love: Monsters of Folk (with Conor Oberst, Jim James, and M. Ward), the smoky duet record he did with Jason Molina, and that Woody Guthrie New Multitudes record with Jay Farrar, Jim James, and Anders Parker last year. He is a gem, among the best. And he is on the road down the West Coast next week with Dave Bazan, in their new musical project together, Overseas.
“Life is wide.”
I wrote that on the inside of a discarded bottle cap the next day as I cleaned up. If it’s long in duration, it’s wide in possibility, in unexpected connection.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #26: WILL JOHNSON
April 24, 2013 – Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
You Will Be Here, Mine
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.
There’s no way to say this without sounding maudlin, but here it is: this song makes me reflexively get a lump in my throat, as sure as a rubber mallet on the kneecap makes you kick. There is something in that stairstep progression of melody at the end of each line that just flat-out breaks my heart on this extremely primal level of sadness that is different from a rational cognitive sadness.
I’ve been kind of knocked flat by the brilliantly unresolved quality of this song, off his latest album Scorpion, since I first heard it.
I don’t know who the protagonist of this story is, but after hearing all the layers that Will describes seeing about who she is, I absolutely feel I know her, broke-ass heart and all.
I, The Kite
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.
I requested that he play this old one, which was written about Will’s divorce and soundtracked mine, pulverizing me the first time I heard it in 2008. If we’re on the subject of best-worsts, I think the line about “and we tried innocence and we tried formaldehyde / in the end, you were left with the strings and I, the kite” is probably one of the most bitingly flawless collection of words to ever sung describe the end of a relationship. But there’s also something I can’t quite articulate in how purely and clearly-resonant he sings those words out into the room.
Going Back Song (Baptist Generals)
So this song first baffled me, because it seems really simple. When Will first launched into this cover by these Denton, TX/Sub Pop Records friends of his, it kinda sounded like a grocery list, a forgetful Post-it note to oneself: has anybody seen my bag?
But then you realize that it is a song about leaving.
It’s a song about the sidelong glance and the slow shuffle along the wall, towards the door. It is completely soaked in regret, about no longer being clean, about being cross but wanting someone you love to know that they are not the reason why.
You’ve had a bag packed all the time, waiting.
ZIP FILE: WILL JOHNSON CHAPEL SESSION
Next chapel session: DAWES.
There is a skittish, soft part of me that was scared to go see The National under an almost-full moon at Red Rocks on Tuesday night.
One of my most charming relational characteristics (#sarcasm) is the way I sometimes slither-sidestep away like a silvery fish from things that are too emotionally intense. Oh, sometimes I dive in; lots of times I dive right in. But when it really, truly disarms me and strikes at my heart in a way I can’t defend against, I will go away and need to be coaxed to come back. I love The National — love them probably more than any other band right now, and have for the last seven years. They soundtracked my brutally bloody / tragically doomed / completely beautiful first relationship after my divorce, and have been insidiously inside my head like a brain tapeworm ever since, needling and gnawing at nerves and receptors.
So I was scared to see them Tuesday for these reasons. I wanted to be there, so much, and I knew it was gonna destroy me. I spent much of the concert in my own untouchable zone. The huge gusts of fresh last-days-of-indian-summer wind kept lifting my hair up off my neck, and drying the relentless water that just kept streaming down from my eyes. I alternated between floating mental-miles away and being breathlessly enmeshed. Feeling their songs pound through me as that massive LED light screen flashed images behind them was a phenomenal interpretive experience, as if my thoughts and Matt Berninger’s thoughts and all the dark dreams that populate our subconscious were flashing up there for all to see. I kept tilting my head up to look at that bold moon rising over the red rocks with a shining corona around it for the first hour of its ascent.
My friend (and talented photographer) Brittney Bollay saw them play last night in Seattle, and she expressed how I feel, exactly:
“It’s like [Matt] crawls inside my head and my chest and finds all my thoughts and feelings. When I see him perform it’s like I inhabit him and he inhabits me, just for a little while. It’s this feeling of partial displacement and symbiosis. I’ve never had that experience with any other band.”
Take that video above of “About Today”: something as simple as the juxtaposition of the song (words/melody/drums like a heartbeat keeping you awake) along with the visuals of starkly bare tree branches in winter plus the thickly-billowing black smoke, and then the blue note saturated darkness when he whispers the lines, “Hey, are you awake…” and the ridiculous crescendo crash of the song careening away — that’s it. I’m done for.
I got to meet Matt and the rest of The National deep in the veins of Red Rocks after the show, and it was an out-of-body experience for the reasons that Brittney explains. I didn’t figure out what I really wanted to say to Matt until the next day driving home (which is regretful because, you know …he wasn’t there then), but in addition to the conversation we actually had, I wanted to tell him this:
One time an author friend and I were talking, and he told me that the first time he picked up an Anne Tyler novel, he knew he wanted to be an author. Calling it “a straightforward chemical connection,” he explained to me that: “I think we have sockets in our backs, really complicated, like, thirty-five pin sockets, and sometimes something or somebody plugs right in and there’s no real explanation. Or rather, there is, but it would be memoir-length.”
I think about 35-pin sockets ALL the time because of this conversation, as it pertains to human relationships, my connections to art, music, foreign cities — everything around me (as some of my favorite friends can attest to). What I wanted to try to explain to Matt was that The National fits all 35 of my pins, and plugs right in.
They fit the pin that loves a carefully-crafted sentence which achingly frames words perfectly around that fleeting feeling that is gone before you even really notice that it’s fully there.
They fit the pin that loves a bit of dissonance in my pleasure, whether melodic or existential.
And the pin that wants to blissfully numb out my voraciously-moving brain with narcotic percussion.
Also the pin that (as I wrote about in my review of Trouble Will Find Me) likes to prod at that simultaneous engagement with the sentimental and the fatalistic, things that we traditionally think of as being at odds with each other.
It’s kind of terrifying to love any musician as much as I find myself still loving this band. I am so grateful for that, for the fear and the 35 pins.
THE NATIONAL – RED ROCKS SETLIST
I Should Live in Salt
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Sea of Love
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Lucky You (gahhhh, seriously?)
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks*
(*that final encore was still as affecting as when I saw them do it in 2010; the mark of an incredible song)
ALL MY PICS FROM TUESDAY ARE OVER AT THE FUEL/FRIENDS FACEBOOK, including those ones with openers Frightened Rabbit and The Local Natives. Photo credit for the last picture above goes to Instagrammer @renae9502.
Tonight I am putting on our first show in the restored Ivywild School gym, the urban renewal brewery project in downtown Colorado Springs. Today dawned grey and rainy, and tonight will be perfect to curl up with a pint of Bristol’s seasonal Oktoberfest brew and listen to some stories and music.
Davy Rothbart is headlining – the founder of FOUND Magazine and contributor to This American Life. He’ll be sharing stories from FOUND Magazine and from his book, My Heart Is An Idiot. The review on TheRumpus.net says this book “collects 16 essays that read like early Jack Kerouac, if you substituted Charlie Parker for Dr. Dre. Rothbart is boozily looking for love in all the wrong places, hitch-hiking, sleeping on couches in cities across America, dreaming of becoming a writer and romanticizing nearly everything in sight, often leaving him bereft.” Reminds me of this Billy Collins poem.
Here he is, hangin’ out with my man Dave:
The show starts tonight at 7pm, with the first supporting artist being one of my favorite professors at Colorado College (where I work). Idris Goodwin is a hip-hop scholar, spoken word artist, and playwright (“How We Got On,” his play about the genesis of hip-hop adoration in a small middle-America town, is one of the best things I have seen in a while). In addition to having been on HBO’s Def Poetry, HE ALSO HE WAS ON SESAME STREET.
After Idris, one of my most-beloved local musicians, The Changing Colors will be playing. Chapel session alums, Conor Bourgal and friends have released a stunningly lovely new record this year with Joan & The King. It’s a record that is redolent with autumnal layers of beauty:
TICKETS ARE HERE (or at the door), only $10. I hope to see you there; I am genuinely excited for this show and for this new creative space in Colorado.
I spent last week driving across a dusty swath of the American West, from Colorado through Wyoming, to Yellowstone and Montana, trawling the feet of the Grand Tetons and down through Utah and the red canyons. The first night, I stopped in Denver when I realized I had forgotten to bring along Muchacho, the newest record from Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck). I bought it at a record store a few blocks off the highway, filled the gas tank, and set back out as the sun set. I listened to it more than a dozen times on my roadtrip, voraciously, front to back and then through some more.
Muchacho is squally and dirt-streaked, it’s threadbare and greedy, it’s weary and pugnacious, and it is the most perfect soundtrack for that drive. Those vacant miles on the road gave me lots of time to think all of those big, unspun thoughts that cannibalize each other and themselves, unhinging their jaws to swallow their own tails and bring us back where we started. This album does the same.
This record wrestles with divergent, simultaneous truths about the brokenness and the bruises. “I am not some broken thing,” Houck howls pointedly in the second track, the stunning “Song For Zula” (which will be my song of the year), but two short songs later he is singing this simple line, that absolutely breaks my heart every time he says it:
“And now you’re telling me my heart’s sick /
…And I’m telling you I know.”
It’s exactly that messiness (and the direct engagement with it) that spills out of this record to draw me in, underneath the timeless country veneer, under the old-time two-stepping and the lonely desert songs. Everything is tangled; everything is fucked up and bleeding, aching and glowing in the summer.
I keep furrowing my brow as I swim around in this tremendous record. It’s unclear as you work through Houck’s songs if he is the cage or the one being caged, if he is the bloody actor or the stage, if he needs to fix himself up to come and be with you, or is a mewing newborn, just seeing colors for the first time. Is it love that’s a killer come to call from some awful dream, or is he himself the one who would kill you with his bare hands if he were free? I find it fascinating. I read his words like I read poems, letting the unsettledness cling and press on me. They keep knocking me out on this album.
“Terror In The Canyon” is one of the most conflicted songs on the album, and I love it for that, Houck being a thousand different contradictory things from one line of the song to the next. Lately all I want to do in my favorite relationships is to plumb those tumultuous volcanic waters inside of us, where we pull in seven different ways and we are all contained inside one skin. “And I’m not so sorry for the heartwreck,” Houck sings, presumedly to the person he’s just left, “but for each season left unblessed – the new terror in the canyons, the new terror in our chests.” I read something parallel this week from John O’Donohue: “The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown.” I feel like something in that new terror might actually be a blessing, and Houck knows it and I know it.
I hit a few of those massive, glorious late-summer rainstorms out on the plains, my favorite one at sunset whose aftermath is pictured up at the top of this post. It was during those times that I felt like I was right in the middle of the lyrics: “Between the shadow and the storm, a little pup was being born / a little whelp without his horns — o my, o my.” This is an album that’s right there in the bloody genesis struggle between the shadows and the wild, humid, electric storm. Each footfall slips first into one realm, then just as quickly slides into the other. There are so many vulnerable moments of beauty on this album that make me gasp, and so many punches to the face.
The biggest, rambliest, most sharply tangled song on this album is perfectly named “The Quotidian Beasts.” The song starts rhythmic and bright: the morning breaking, the drawing of a bath. Houck tells an allegory of a beast with claws, with familiar black eyes (depression?); he knew she was coming and she was here at last.
I said “It’s you took your claws,
you slipped ‘em under my skin
There’s parts that got outside honey
I want to put ‘em back in
We’ve been playing like children, honey
now we’ll play it like men
Those parts that got outside
I’m gonna put them back in.”
By the end of this struggle of a fable, those quotidian, daily beasts have transformed like Gremlins exposed to water, and are now something altogether different and terrifying. The song ends after seven minutes as a huge Zeppelinesque epic that has exploded into a fire that just burned your house down. It is the perfect summation of what Houck is doing on this record, over and over again.
The first and last tracks on the record are seamless twins, the opening track “An Invocation, An Introduction” and the last “A Koan, An Exit.” The songs run along the same riverbed (making it easy to let the album loop back to track one after the last song finishes, like the beast that eats its own tail) but the more I listen to it, the more I realize how vastly different the last song is, how it feels so much more weary. After all the yelps and the fistfights, some of the brambles have been broken off. The kitchen is scattered with broken dishes. We’re rattling our instruments and raising our voices, and there are these stunning glints and sunflares that glow, but the speakers are blown.
It started golden, gleaming, resplendent. It ends a beautiful ramshackle mess. And we’ll do it again tomorrow, and next year.
We’ll do it ’til the end.
Muchacho (Dead Oceans, 2013)
A few hours ago, Josiah from The Head and The Heart and I were in a parking garage in Boulder, finishing cigarettes and coffee, and he sang this plangent and visceral new song for me. I don’t know if it’s finished, but there is something terrific & pure in the ephemerality this afternoon.
Let’s Be Still, the sophomore album from The Head and The Heart, is out October 15.
Small Houses definitely released one of my favorite records of the year so far, the incisive and beautiful Exactly Where You Wanted To Be (Yer Bird Records), and I have written about Tyler Lyle (one of my favorite albums of 2011, and a chapel session alum) so very many times because everything he does amazes, rivets, and pierces me.
Come, for this kind of goodness:
Pickwick is a magnetic, six-person band from Seattle that draws people to stop what they are doing and listen, to pause in their conversations and move closer to the stage. Ever since the very first time I saw frontman Galen Disston sing like a man possessed in front of this generous and tightly-wound band of musicians, I was completely taken.
The first songs I heard from them were soulful, old-feeling jams like “Hacienda Motel” and “Blackout” that still give me great joy (and a healthy amount of toe-tapping/hip-swaying). Seeing them live is akin to a tsunami — we all broke the stage together at Doe Bay Fest 2011, and that was a tremendous moment. But the longer I have followed these guys, the more I notice the darker currents swirling up and the complexities emerge.
Last weekend Pickwick headlined Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party, and I loved the reactions. The Stranger wrote about their set, marveling over how this band is not the “polite blue-eyed soul” that lots of us associate with the Pickwick name; the author is right that there is a taut thread of shadow running right through the bloody center of this band, and in the live setting it burns palpably. Perhaps this chapel session evokes especially strongly the bonecrushing post-SXSW fatigue, but I love the darker currents here, the layered heaviness that allows these songs to take on a new shape than I had noticed before.
Also, that Rufus Wainwright cover? Get on out of town.
As always, you can download all the tracks for free below (zip file also at the bottom), and make sure to check out all 24 of the past sessions on the right sidebar.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #25: PICKWICK
Recorded at Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
St. Patrick’s Day 2013, nighttime
I notice hands, all the time. Right now thinking of each of my friends, I can picture their hands. To me, they are like faces but almost more expressive. As you watch these videos of Galen, you might also be mesmerized by the hands that alternately seem to channel the spirits, and knead themselves as he kinesthetically works all the songs out of his lungs. His hands elegantly interpret the songs in a subconscious complement that adds to the songs these guys orchestrate.
We recorded this session on a Sunday night, with all the shadows gathering, our bellies full of the Irish shepherd’s pie I’d made and the Guinness we had paired it with. It was quiet in the church, after their long hot bright week at SXSW. I was half-expecting Pickwick to blow the roof off the place as they had done in all the big, loud, shiny halls I had seen them in before. The restraint was instead a welcome, haunting oasis. This song gave me goosebumps, from these eerie opening loops – and I still get them now listening back.
The unsettled, beautiful feeling that this song left me with was similar to this Werkmeister Harmoniak movie I keep trying to watch. It’s like swimming up to the surface in a confusing dream.
Halls of Columbia
Starting with the chimey chopsticks piano duet of Cassady and Michael (watch video), this song is the closest my hips got to swaying, even as it is one of the most wrenching songs in their repertoire – seeming to wrestle with spirituality and our roots. As this song congeals, I find myself noticing the instincts of this band in the give and take.
Foolish Love (Rufus Wainwright)
I always ask the bands if there is someone else’s song that they would like to end the chapel session with, and most have something in mind — sometimes an old friend that they cover often, sometimes a wonderfully spur of the moment contrivance. This cover of the first half of the first song on Rufus Wainwright’s haunting self-titled 1998 debut album was definitely an off-the-cuff experiment gone blissfully right. It is uncanny how Galen’s voice hovers over the water, and shimmers strongly through the ether in the same way that Rufus’s does.
UPCOMING CHAPEL SESSIONS:
In case you haven’t been following along with my adventures on “The Instagram,” we have six more incredible chapel sessions in the bag that we are working through final audio production for, and that you can look forward to in the coming months:
-Vandaveer (with some help from Ark Life on a tune)
-David Wax Museum
Summer has us on a bit of a slow-down (WHAT’S NEW) but watch out for what’s next as we get through the backlog because holy hell have we taken some fine folks through that chapel. I’m a lucky woman to get to share them with you.
[audio production from the fine gents at Blank Tape Records, video and stills by the magnificent Kevin Ihle]
I am back, relaxed, from Timber! and working on getting the Pickwick Chapel Session ready to post, also wrestling out a think-piece about cynicism & music (of course I am) that may or may not ever see the light …but really all I want to do today is watch this video on repeat.
I want The Roots to be my backing band in everyday life. Everything would be so much better.
Blurred Lines (with The Roots and Jimmy Fallon) – Robin Thicke
I am boarding my plane for Seattle, heading to the Timber! Outdoor Music Fest, and man am I looking forward to floating in the river and listening to some unbelievably well-picked artists.
Tickets are still available last time I checked (although it is close to selling out), should you feel a twinge of jealousy right now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better indulgence.
I am so taken by that mellifluous, honeyed VOICE.
PHOX is set to arrive on my doorstep in Colorado Springs to kick off their tour on Wednesday night — they are playing a free show that I’ve booked them at in the cool new urban renewal / revival space at Ivywild School, in the Principal’s Office Bar. Please come be delinquent! And be wowed.
This song, “Kingfisher,” is also available (like all of their music) for FREE on their bandcamp site.
Another chance to see them will be along with 417 other incredible bands at the Underground Music Showcase (UMS) this weekend, otherwise known as one of Colorado’s very best music weekends all year. I’ll be there!
This week I find myself in a part of the world that’s just ri-goddamn-diculous, as my friend Sailor Jay would say. I whiled away this afternoon swimming and paddling in a kayak on Alice Lake, a little sapphire in the valley’s hand out in British Columbia. As I paddled, and listened to my paddle dripping water onto my legs and the waves lapping against the boat, I watched hundreds of little cerulean blue dragonflies flit and hover and sun themselves. I glided silently under where the mossy trees dip down to touch the water and make a natural cave of leaves.
The song that I started singing out loud for myself was “When You Are Still” by David Wax Museum (and not just because they are playing at my house on Thursday, nor to set up this post)…
This is a band that is wonderfully different from anyone I have hosted before, as their music blends this cool Appalachian-folk style with Mexican Son music. David Wax plays a traditional Mexican guitar called a jarana, while his musical partner Suz Slezak plays fiddle and a donkey jawbone called a quijada. This will be the first time that a band has experimented with animal bones in my house, sooooo….. come for that.
You’ve heard their music, at minimum, on several of my seasonal mixes — “Born With A Broken Heart” to start the springtime, “The Least I Can Do” in late lazy summer, and “When You Are Still” for the autumn. You should also definitely get my favorite full-length from them, Everything Is Saved. They shipped some ahead to my house, so get one Thursday.
Opening the night will be Denver’s own amazing Chimney Choir! In their own words, “Chimney Choir conjures colorful avant-pop by mixing old time acoustic instruments with droning synths, junk percussion and 3 part harmonies in a theatrical show.” I love junk percussion; Imma start saving cans now.
One last rad recording of them, so you know what we’re in for: I still love this line, “Some of us come with new hearts, most of us come with used hearts — baby, why do you look so sad?”
DAVID WAX MUSEUM HOUSE CONCERT
w/ Chimney Choir
Thursday at 7:30pm-ish
We suggest a generous donation for the bands, please, and you ought to BYOB.
So in case you were not around cool humans a few weeks ago, you might not have heard that The Replacements are reforming to play three shows this summer at the Riot Fest (!!!). I am not a rioty person, but I do love me some Paul Westerberg in all of his many forms, and this news came out of a wonderful left field to surprise most of us. Even though we don’t know who else is in the band this go around (other than Tommy Stinson, and, maybe, Prince) — IT’S THE REPLACEMENTS.
I was trying to explain The Replacements to my intern (again, with the intern. This kid is getting double his unpaid-work-hours money) and I used words like “sloppy but melodic” and “like, this visceral rawness with classic rock n’ roll underpinnings.” I used the word “punk” a few times; something about the Beatles; we talked about the dangers of alcohol overuse. I think we both went home from work that day better human beings, and now he has a new band to discover.
Back in 2006 I posted a pirate’s treasure trove of Replacements and Westerberg rarities and b-sides that a reader sent me. In honor of the Riot Fest news, and to announce the ticket giveaway I get to do for it, here they are again below, all re-upped.
TICKET GIVEAWAY! I have two pairs of 2-day passes to the Denver stop of Riot Fest to give away to Fuel/Friends readers. It’s happening September 21 and 22 on a farm-looking place outside of town; I’ll also be going and probably camping, which should be delightful.
TO ENTER TO WIN: leave a comment telling me why you should win a pair of tickets, and I will pick two winners in a week or so.
Now tunes. For you, and the intern.
PAUL WESTERBERG RARITIES
Dyslexic Heart (Singles soundtrack)
Waiting for Somebody (Singles soundtrack)
Seein’ Her (b-side of Knockin’ on Mine)
Men Without Ties (b-side of Knockin’ on Mine)
Dice Behind Your Shades (Festicle version, b-side of Knockin’ on Mine)
Can’t Hardly Wait (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad) (Marah cover here)
Left of the Dial (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad)
Another Girl, Another Planet (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad)
Answering Machine (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad)
Daydream Believer (live, b-side British single?)
A Star is Bored (Melrose Place Soundtrack)
Backlash (w/ Joan Jett) (Notorious LP)
Let’s Do It (w/ Joan Jett) (Tank Girl Soundtrack)
Sunshine (Friends Soundtrack)
Stain Yer Blood (Friends Soundtrack)
Make Your Own Kind of Music (Eventually Bonus Track Japan)
I Want My Money Back (Grandpaboy Single)
Undone (Grandpaboy Single)
Wonderful Copenhagen (Suicaine Gratification Bonus Track Europe)
33rd of July (Suicaine Gratification Bonus Track Europe)
Nowhere Man (I Am Sam Soundtrack)
Be Bad For Me (Folker Bonus Track Europe)
If Only You Were Lonely (b-side of I’m In Trouble)
Hey Good Lookin’ (b-side of I Will Dare)
20th Century Boy (T Rex cover) (Let It Be Outtake)
Who’s Gonna Take Us Alive (Let It Be Outtake)
Temptation Eyes (Let It Be Outtake)
Street Girl (Let It Be Outtake)
Nowhere Is My Home (Boink LP – England)
Bundle Up (PTMM Rehearsal, Jungle Rock w/ new lyrics)
Empty As Your Heart (aka PO Box) (PTMM Rehearsal)
Time Is Killing Us (PTMM Rehearsal)
Kick It In (PTMM Rehearsal)
Run For The Country (PTMM Rehearsal)
Going Out Of My Head (PTMM Rehearsal)
(“We’ll learn it tomorrow. Think of another one.”)
Trouble On The Way (PTMM Rehearsal)
Make This Your Home (PTMM Rehearsal)
Cool Water (PTMM Rehearsal)
Route 66 (b-side of Alex Chilton)
Tossin’ and Turnin’ (b-side of The Ledge)
Ought To Get Love (Don’t Tell A Soul Outtake)
Kissing In Action (All Shook Down Outtake)