REVIEW: No Age, Lucky Dragons

Arriving at the Magic Stick, I found most of the audience sitting on the floor in the middle of the venue surrounding a large spread of electronic objects, most of which were unidentifiable.  Two people, making noises into microphones seemed to be in charge, and they were also seated.  The crowd pulled on ropes and moved around the objects, modulating the dense textures of the sound.  There was a rug, something called Make A Baby.  This was Lucky Dragons.

Describing the sound of Lucky Dragons is a challenge; it would be better to listen to their Myspace.  But their live show was different than their uploads.  Gone are the gentle melodies that fade in and out of electronic nonsense, these are replaced with audience-produced layers of rhythmic elements.  In the past, I’ve found audience-participation to be poorly executed during live shows, it either comes out as patronizing or agonizing.  But Lucky Dragons have found a way to make it interesting and authentic, figuratively and literally feeding off the energy of the people in the room.

No Age took the stage with surprising rapidity, which I suppose makes sense given how simple their setup was: drums + guitar + some homie standing to the side of the stage to play pre-recorded sounds and mix their live sound.  Compared to the sound of their records, they sounded astoundingly similar, except with more energy and less fi.  You know, fi as in low fi.  This congruity between their live and recorded sound was at once reassuring – hey, they’re honest on their records – and disappointing – they’re not mega-arena-rock stars.  Not to say they weren’t good live, but they didn’t blow me away.  I’m sure that had this been my first exposure to No Age, I would have been inspired enough to buy their record, but as it was I felt merely whelmed.  Not over- or under- whelmed, just whelmed.

The heaviness of their fast-paced, short songs lent to some intense audience reactions.  The small but energetic crowd pulled off a decent mosh pit (which now that I think of it, seems to happen at just about every Magic Stick show).  I tried to get my friend to join me in jumping around and body-slamming, but he immediately got punched in the face.  Sorry, bro.  It happens.

One thing to be said for No Age, is that they seem like really nice dudes.  They counted down their last few songs, didn’t make the audience wait for the encore, then immediately after finishing went and sat on the edge of the stage to meet the fans.  Overall, a great night with great company.  Good vibes, guys, good vibes.


Sorry for the short notice, but there’s a totally-rad show happening tonight (Friday) in Detroit, and I’d hate for you to miss it!  No Age is playing the Magic Stick, supported by Lucky Dragons.  If you aren’t familiar, No Age is a noise-punk-pop-rock duo from Los Angeles, and they just came out with a new record, called Everything in Between that showcases some of their most accessible material.  I’m not familiar with Lucky Dragons, but a quick Myspace listen revealed some thoughtfully melodic but heavily affected music, that’s, well, pretty hard to describe.  I’d say it reminded me of The Books, but I’m not sure.  Anyway the show is sure to be a riot, and hey – it’s a Friday night, so bring your A-game, okay?

Who: No Age, Lucky Dragons

When: Friday, 11/19/10, doors 8pm

Where: Magic Stick 4120-4140 Woodward Ave in Detroit

D$llars: $12/14 whatever that means ($14 at the door?)

REVIEW: The Soft Pack, Kurt Vile & The Violators

I don’t usually go to shows by myself, but I didn’t really have a choice for this one.  Between a show at Arbor Vitae, a Man The Hunter/Swimsuit show in Detroit, and of course, Bob Dylan at Hill Auditorium, most of my friends had other ideas about how to spend their nights.  And unfortunately so did most of Ann Arbor’s concert-going population.  And it was a Thursday, after all.

Not to say this show was poorly attended, but the crowd was definitely slow to form.  I got to the Blind Pig at 10pm and the opening band had just begun setting up, and there were about twenty people there, which includes staff, roadies, and members of three bands.  Thank god for free popcorn.

Purling Hiss, the opening band, were a power trio with a pretty heavy sound, and they certainly rocked hard but there simply weren’t enough people there to really get excited about it.  For a punk band, I found it surprising how present the guitar was in their music – some solos sounded straight out of 80s hair metal!  What was most impressive, though, was how tight they sounded as a band.  They did a great job of filling the room, which can be difficult for power trios.

There’s something distinctive about the appearance Kurt Vile and his backing band, the violators.  It goes beyond the long, curly head of hair on each member of the band.  I think it might be their noses.  They all have pretty large noses.

Anyway, with three guitars and a drummer, Kurt Vile’s live band wasn’t exactly what I expected.  Their sound was related to his studio sound, but, well, much louder.  Most of the selections were songs from his 2009 album, Childish Prodigy, which happens to be my least favorite album of his.  Drone-y and thick, repetitive and emotional, the set sort of exhausted the listener, but in a good way.  I was happy to have seen and heard this arrangement of his songs, but honestly, I think I would have preferred a show with just him and a guitar.  At one point when an effect pedal ran out of batteries and the band was busy figuring out the issue, he played an older song of his solo and it was a welcome change of pace.  Nonetheless, the cryptic emotions in his songs were preserved, and it gave me chills to see him singing with one eye peering out at the crowd from behind his hair, wincing during the most climactic parts of the songs.

If The Soft Pack sound just a little sloppy on their record, their live show is quite the opposite.  One of the best balanced and rhythmically solid bands I’ve seen live, the raw energy of their pop-rock was astoundingly present at Thursday night’s show.  Between a drummer who played standing up, and a guitarist who made funny concentrated faces as he played, you could tell they were having as much fun as the audience.  Each song was an absolute joy, and a crowd-pleaser in its own way.  Playing songs off their full length, a new tune or two, old songs from when they were called the Muslims, and even a cover, The Soft Pack demanded the crowd’s attention then held it for over an hour.  I actually had to leave early so I could get up for a math exam the following morning (which went really poorly, by the way, thanks for asking).  But by the time I left, the energy in the place was amazing, despite the relatively small crowd which had now grown to fill about 1/3rd of the venue.

So overall I think the only issue with the show was the lack of attendance.  But that’s what you get when you have a show on a Thursday when Bob Dylan is in town.

PREVIEW: The Soft Pack, Kurt Vile & the Violators

Yesterday a package showed up on my doorstep from Russia, a small yellow cardboard box with curious writing and shipping labels from foreign lands on it.  It turns out that it was an item I bought on eBay that I didn’t realize had to ship all the way from Russia.  The thing is, the shipping box was almost as interesting than the goods it contained.  My name and my address were written in English, but the handwriting had a strange quality to it that I found fascinating – a confident print, but with slightly misshapen letters and inconsistent capitalization.  I could read it, but something about it was as foreign as the Cyrillic that covered the rest of the box.

This box is a lot like the music of Kurt Vile.  His music is familiar, some songs sounding almost like old American folk standards, and he sings them in such a way that convinces the listener that it should be a well-known melody, with lyrics that will never be forgotten.  However, there is something very strange about the final product.  His songs are affected with large amounts of delay, reverb, and synth noise that might seem unexpected, but fit perfectly.  We’ll see how his backup band, the Violators, form his live sound, which I would expect to be markedly different than his studio work.

Watch this video to learn just about all you need to about The Soft Pack before coming to Thursday’s show.  Formerly known as The Muslims, the music of the Soft Pack is catchy and fun; simple, but heavy.  Get ready for fun, dancing, and if it gets punk enough, moshing.

so – details:

Who: The Soft Pack, Kurt Vile & The Violators

Where: The Blind Pig, 208 S. First St.

When: Thurs, 10/28, doors at 9pm

And?: $10adv/$12 day of. 18+



REVIEW: Benoit Pioulard, Windy & Carl & Hitoko, Man the Hunter

Shows at the Yellow Barn on Huron can be hit or miss, either packed with great energy or awkward with only a handful of patrons.  Thankfully, this one was a total hit right from the beginning with a large diverse crowd of Ann Arborites dressed in their Saturday-night best arriving even before the first act.

The show began with a short unannounced set by Skate Laws, aka Forest Juziuk of Hott Lava, the experimental film outfit that booked tonight’s show.  Perhaps one of the strangest live performances I’ve seen in recent memory, Forest orated and gyrated to a prerecorded soundtrack of vaguely hardcore music, played off an iPod connected to the house PA.  As unexplainable as his music is, it is thoroughly entertaining and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two from his musings on, I don’t know, the American educational system.  It was kind of hard to follow, but in a really charming way.

Full disclosure: Man the Hunter is a close friend of mine, so I’ll keep this super-duper-objective (what up, Evan!).

I’ve seen Ann Arbor’s own Man the Hunter perform several times in the past, and this show was among his best.  Joined for the first time by Ezra Noble on bass, his nostaliarock sound took on a groovy new dimension that ultimately led to a more danceable set.  The catchy-ness of his songs paid off, with the crowd singing and shouting the lyrics to his songs, sometimes louder than the PA.  You guys remember summer 2010?  Are you nostalgic about it yet?  Come to a Man the Hunter show and you will be.

I must admit, I missed most of Windy & Carl & Hitoko because I needed a pizza really, really bad.  Upon my return from Papa John’s, they were playing a sustained tone that gently undulated, but never appeared to really change.  I’m 95% sure it was the same note they were playing when I left.  Historically, I have had a hard time approaching ambient music, especially live, but I will admit I regret missing the majority of their set.  The other concertgoers seemed to really enjoy it.

Benoit Pioulard will always remind me of riding the University of Michigan buses the winter of my freshman year, when I lived on North Campus.  His gentle and compelling music set the perfect mood to watch the snowy Ann Arbor landscape pass, and allowed me to forget for at least a minute how bogus it is to live up there.  Seated in front of an extensive collection of guitar pedals, Benoit seemed completely at peace in front of the mesmerized crowd, most of whom sat in rows on the Yellow Barn’s unfinished wood floor.  Making slow and deliberate music, he crafted a beautiful soundscape of heavily effected vocal and guitar tones for each song.  His melodies are either haunting or slightly awkward; I have yet to decide which, but I don’t think it really matters.  He’s moving to England shortly, so make sure to catch him next time he’s stateside.

Overall, the show was fantastic, but I found the lineup to be a little strange.  Following the high energy sets of Skate Laws and Man the Hunter, Windy & Carl & Hitoko and Benoit Pioulard seemed a little out of place with their relaxing offerings.  Not to say it didn’t work, but I’m used to leaving a concert after the highest energy act.  Perhaps that is why I was restless on my way home from the Yellow Barn, but hey, at least I didn’t have to catch a bus to North Campus.

PREVIEW: Benoit Pioulard, Windy & Carl & Hitoko, Man the Hunter

When: Today, 10/23/10, 9:30pm

Where: Yellow Barn, 416 W. Huron St.

How Much: $8, all ages

Have you ever woken up at 1:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday and the first thing that comes into your mind is “I really should support my local music scene”?  If so, tonight will be your lucky night.  All three acts in tonight’s show hail from the murder mitt – Benoit and Man the Hunter are even from Ann Arbor!  Yes, THE Ann Arbor!  If you didn’t wake up at 1:30, I respect that, but come on down to the Yellow Barn anyway.  Unless it’s past your 8pm bedtime or something.

Here’s what’s up: with a number of releases on Moodgadget and Ghostly International, Benoit Pioulard has been making beautiful music that chills harder than chillwave, since before people even called it that.  Word on the street is this will be his last show in the United States before he moves overseas.  So catch him while you still can.  I have no idea who Windy & Carl & Hitoko are, and someone stole the little box that hooks my computer up to my speakers so I can’t listen to their Myspace page right now, but you totally should.  Several kind and patient people have explained to me that they are an influential name in the noise/drone scene, so I’m sure it will be great, right?  Why wouldn’t it be?  Plus, you get Man the Hunter, one of the freshest faces in Ann Arbor’s prom rock scene.  Rumor has it he has some new songs and a new friend.

SEEYATHURR, glwyh! (good luck with your headache)