Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tartufi, Red Hands Black Feet and Phantahex @ Neurolux (8/28/12)

Tartufi's solid performance at the Crux on Sunday got me curious to see what they'd do with this headlining gig, but what really attracted me to this show was Red Hands Black Feet.  They've been busy lately: they returned from a successful first tour earlier this month, and they're working to get their first album released soon.  With this big a head of steam worked up, no way was I gonna miss their first proper gig since they got back.

I counted about twenty people inside when I showed up with a friend.  That number would almost triple by the time that Red Hands Black Feet took the stage.

First up this night was Phantahex a.k.a. Tristan Andreas and Grant Olsen.  Their fascinating, slightly ominous experimental music sounded more aggressive and dissonant than I remember it sounding at Tom Grainey's.  Perhaps they just didn't want to sound like dithering wimps next to the other two acts.  In any case, Tristan Andreas stroked and banged out some Industrial-strength buzzsaw noise, deceptively soothing riffs and disorienting, polyrhythmic loops on his monochord.  Grant Olsen's synthesizer set-up rippled and blared.  Some of the crowd clearly wasn't feeling this stuff (including my friend), but I liked it fine.

Red Hands Black Feet took the stage next.  As with Finn Riggins, touring seems to have done this group a lot of good: Eric Larson and Jake Myers' intertwining guitars, Joseph Myers's basslines and Jessica Johnson's drumming all showed an astonishing increase in finesse while retaining their fundamental raw power.  The already strong rapport between the four members seemed to have reached an almost subliminal level.  The crowd moved in close and cheered wildly, and not without good reason: in its own unassuming way, this set was almost as powerful as their Treefort performance.

For their headlining set, Tartufi played much of the same material from last Sunday's set at the Crux but with greater intensity and impact.  You could maybe chalk that up to a mixture of the Neurolux's sound system, a desire to show up the openers and the adulation of the larger crowd.  In any case, their bright, airy guitar, their tough, twangy bass and their kinetic drums all sounded in top form.  Not only that, I could actually hear the lyrics on a couple of songs (including an encore number which they once again invited Lisa Simpson from Finn Riggins to sing on).  Didn't sound too bad at all, if maybe a bit ungainly (it's kinda hard to shoehorn "From the fish fields of the north Pacific" into a soothing, ambient tune).

You can find info on Red Hands Black Feet and Tartufi on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Radio Boise.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Learning Team, Finn Riggins, Tartufi and No Paws @ the Crux (8/26/12)

Sheesh.  I know Tartufi likes to play Boise, but this was just ridiculous: in addition to headlining last Tuesday's Radio Boise show at Neurolux, they picked up this gig at the Crux.  Like I said once before, oughtta just buy a house here.  But hey, I wasn't gonna knock seeing them and one of Boise's finest again, not to mention a couple of out-of-state acts who were new to me.

A friend and I got down there good and early, having seen an announcement on Facebook that the show would start promptly at 7.  That may have been the plan, but I should've trusted on one of the cardinal rules of rock and roll: no concert EVER starts right on time.  On the plus side, the extra hour that it took for things to get underway allowed me to watch a very respectable crowd build up.

The Bellingham, WA band Learning Team kicked off the evening.  I might need to doublecheck some of the science trivia that they dropped thoughout their set (can you really train a dog to sniff out lung cancer?), but the high quality of their music was unquestionable.  Alex Vlahosotiros's warm cello added a serene, yearning tone to this group's mix of dreamy melodies, jangly riffs, zooming basslines and no-nonsense drumming.  Their confident groove got the people dancing and clapping to the beat.

After Learning Team came Finn Riggins.  The bit of touring that they've done around the Northwest lately seems to have tightened them up but good: Cameron Bouiss's full-throttle drums, Eric Gilbert's flowing keyboard and synth and Lisa Simpson's strong, lovely voice and guitar all sounded in peak form.  This night's set provided ample proof, were any needed, that this trio is still one of Idaho's flagship bands.  They skanked through the inexhaustible "Benchwarmers" without the technical difficulties that marred their Pre-Fat Block Party set, and their instrumental barn-burner and "Big News" got everyone in the Crux moving.

Tartufi followed Finn Riggins with a slightly mellower and more playful set than I was used to from them.  Of course, that doesn't mean I wasn't grateful that I brought my earplugs.  Their serene melodies and harmonies rode atop undulant guitar lines, thick basslines and powerhouse drumming.  A highlight of their set was one gorgeous number where they invited Finn Riggins back onstage to play and sing along.

Oh yeah, and about that pink gorilla outfit... If you go to Finn Riggins' FB page, you'll have a nice chuckle.  That's all I'm gonna write.

Not many folks stuck around to watch No Paws, which was really too bad.  To their credit, however, the Riverside, CA band didn't seem to let the reduced crowd faze them and turned in a rousing finale to the night.  Their charmingly plain vocals, gentle keyboard parts, airily chiming guitar, tuneful basslines and fierce, unstoppable drumming made me think a little of what New Order might sound like if they tried to recapture the raw energy of their Warsaw days.  A nice combination: rowdy yet soothing.

You can find info about all of these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Duck Club Presents.

Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars, Hectic Hobo, Insomniac Folklore and Fleet Street Klezmer Band @ the Red Room (8/25/12)

I caught Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars' excellent set at the Mountain Music Sleepover on the 19th, but I didn't write about it because I didn't see enough of the other acts to do justice to the show as a whole.  This show attracted my attention, therefore, because it gave me the chance to make up at least partially for that failing.  It helped too, of course, that it featured three acts who were unknown to me.

A little over twenty people had braved the sickeningly smoky air and made it down to the Red Room by 8:45, and that number at least doubled as the night progressed.  That made me glad: the acts this night certainly deserved a good audience.

Local group Fleet Street Klezmer Band kicked off the night.  Although Gogol Bordello obviously sprang to mind, their Jewish/Gypsy/Russian folk tunes and jaunty tempos also reminded me a little of the Pogues in spirit.  Of course, a big difference was that you could understand what leader Shlomo Kostenko said when he sang in English.  The lyrics were definitely worth hearing too: my favorite song, "Dance of the Unemployed," was as detailed and bitter as you'd hope.  ("Has nothing to do with anything today," Kostenko said.  "At all.")  Even when I didn't understand the words, the hearty, communal spirit of this group's music struck right to the heart of what I love most about folk and punk.  Extra kudos for the rockin' clarinet solos.

Up next was Insomniac Folklore.  "We come from places like Portland, Oregon and St. Louis, Missouri," leader Tyler Hentschel announced, "but mostly we come from a station wagon."  Tom Waits may have set the template for their stomped-out beats, bluesy tunes, twisted lyrics and carny shtick, but this group's brains, chutzpah and good cheer put them on the right side of the line between influence and imitation.  Hentschel's low, tongue-in-cheek vocals and winningly cartoonish stage persona found solid support in Amanda Curry's deadpan bass and the sweet backup vocals of Adrienne Curry and Wallace, "the world's only singing sheep!"  The crowd held up their lighters during "Bodies and Arson!" and roared with laughter at the children's singalong, "Listen To Your Parents But Don't Trust the Government."  Ultimate message: "L'Chaim to life."

After Insomniac Folklore came the Salt Lake City group Hectic Hobo.  Their groove felt just a little stiff compared to the two preceding acts, but their swinging backbeat and gypsy folk/sea chanty tunes were greatly enjoyable nonetheless.  Hasen Pfeffer's throaty groan and rasp served as yet another object lesson in how Tom Waits has corrupted our nation's youth.  "The Ranger" let rip some stinging electric guitar solos, but Nicholas Newberry's accordion dominated the music.

Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars provided a fine ending to the night.  Their set at the Mountain Music Sleepover planted the suspicion in my mind, and this set left no doubt: they have become one of the absolute best groups in town.  Their indelible songs and riffs, sweet and sour vocals, thoughtful basslines, gorgeous accordion and turbo-charged drums all blended together and moved as one.  It's just a pity that the crowd had thinned out pretty severely before they played.

You can find info about all these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Andrew Felts, Memphibians and Cerberus Rex @ the Red Room (8/24/12)

The Red Room threw their second movie-themed party last Friday night.  I missed their Star Wars-themed show, but I had a good reason--Toots and the Maytals played the same night.  Anyway, I was curious to check out their Jurassic Park-themed party, especially when I saw that it'd feature mega-hard-rockin' local group Cerberus Rex and a couple of acts I'd never heard of before.

I got down there just in time to watch Laura Dern fend off the velociraptors in the power room. I sat at a table near the back and looked around at the patrons' costumes (my favorite was this one guy who dressed up as a dinosaur).  I didn't have anything that would've made a decent costume, but since I wore all black, I have glasses and I'm a pretentious asshole, maybe I could've passed for Ian Malcolm.

First up after the movie was Andrew Felts, a musician from Jacksonville, FL.  His rough vocals struck me as a little snide at first, but after a couple of songs, I realized that "pained" described them more accurately.  The man sang as if he could barely suppress a scream or a sob or both.  This suited his smart, sardonic punk-country tunes perfectly.  His sharp lyrics livened up the good old my-woman-left-me and my-woman-done-me-wrong themes, and I especially appreciated when he sang through a clenched jaw a la George Jones.

After Andrew Felts came Memphibians, who also hailed from Jacksonville.  Their clanging riffs, endearingly harsh vocals, xylophone and French horn hooks and rock-solid drumming got the punks in the crowd dancing and bouncing off each other.  Between songs, they gave shout-outs to Boise state parks, Lucky Peak and Finn Riggins (who they said helped them book this gig).  Hopefully, all of this means that we'll see them around these parts again sometime soon.  Grand arty/grungy fun.

Cerberus Rex wrapped up the live music for the night with a focused and galvanizing set.  Drummer Jake Hite was in particularly pulverizing form, and Josh Galloway worked up a fine bellow--I could even make out some of the lyrics this time around.  Meanwhile, the bass sounded as monolithic and the guitars as scorching as ever.  During their set-capping cover of Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice," Z.V. House scraped, detuned and literally tore at his guitar strings to produce some glorious noise.  Well worth a little ringing in the ears.

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Wes Malvini and the Red Room.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Le Fleur and Helvetia @ Neurolux (8/23/12)

It occurred to me that, while I've written about Dark Swallows a couple of times over the past few months, I don't think I've written about its precursor of sorts, Le Fleur, since Treefort.  Last Thursday's show at Neurolux gave me the opportunity to correct that wrong and to check out a Portland band unknown to me.

Because I took a friend out for an impromptu birthday dinner, I wound up making it down to Neurolux later than I'd planned.  Luckily, I arrived near the beginning of Le Fleur's set.  I counted about thirty people at that point, and the crowd would build to about fifty if not more as the night progressed.  Maybe everybody just wanted to cut loose some before classes started up again at BSU.

Le Fleur opened and gave the best performance that I've seen by them yet.  Seeing Dark Swallows so recently enabled me to compare and contrast these two groups' respective sounds.  While Ivy Meissner's somber vocals serve as just one thread in Dark Swallows' weave of echoey voices and guitars, Le Fleur's more spartan sound makes them the centerpiece.  Since Meissner's singing stronger and smarter than ever nowadays, however, she can bear the exposure.  Her bandmates aren't exactly slouching either: their glinting guitars, screeking synth textures and dynamic drumming never sounded so locked-in and focused.

After Le Fleur came the Portland-based group Helvetia, whose tuneful, ominous, shoegaze-tinged rock went down very smoothly.  Too smoothly, perhaps--their high, pensive vocals and polite drones and dirges threatened to make my eyelids sag, howling guitar solos notwithstanding.  The touches of psychedelic hard rock in those solos as well as the organ-like synthesizer parts, supple basslines and tough drumming made me think of Atomic Mama on downers.  This music may be a little too placid for everyday use (in my case, at least), but it'd probably sound great late at night when your mind starts playing tricks on you.

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Twin Suns, The Bare Bones and Uintahs @ the Red Room (8/22/12)

This show excited me because it gave me the opportunity to show some support for ORRiginal Promotions, whose shows I haven't gotten to write about in a while, and to see the Bare Bones and Uintahs, whose shows ditto.  The cherry on top was a set by Twin Suns, a Los Angeles band I'd never seen before.

As on Tuesday night, the crowd only built to about twenty or so.  Such is the rotten luck of playing on an off night, I guess.  At least the people who did show up got into the music (though it would've been nice if more people had stuck around to watch the out-of-towners).

Uintahs started off the night.  "Hats off to the best sound guy ever!" Marcus Youngberg proclaimed at the end of their set, and not without good reason: their celestial harmonies, rumbling drums and bass and glittering guitars sounded even better than I remembered.  The band deserved some credit too, of course, especially for their impeccably crafted songs, for their slinky but hard-hitting groove and for Marcus Youngberg, who has gotta be one of the best singers around these parts.

The Bare Bones played next.  Their piercing guitar, liquid basslines and relentless drumming all sounded a touch heavier than before, which was okay by me.  It just added more swagger and punch to their psychedelic/hard rock tunes.  Chris Brock's voice sounded lower and more forthright while his terse, screeching solos called to mind Ron Asheton more than once.  It always does my heart good to hear a good band getting even better.

Twin Suns closed out the night and met the challenge of following the two local acts with flying colors.  Light vocals and pensive, poppy tunes held firm within a maelstrom of thunderous drumming, rubbery bass, soulful sax, spacey synth and raging guitars.  While they did like their jerky stop-start bits, they liked their jazzy, funky grooves even more.  This allowed the handful of people in the audience to cut loose a little (and more than a little, in some cases).  Here's hoping that more folks get to see this group if/when they come around again.

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  And for any touring bands out there, you can contact ORRiginal Promotions at

Noah Jensen, Sleepy Seahorse, Younger Shoulder and Richard Album and the Lifestyles @ the Red Room (8/21/12)

As I was planning out my schedule for August, I realized that I hadn't actually seen an entire Atypical Tuesday show in a while.  This last Tuesday seemed like a perfect time to work one in, since it gave me the chance to see Sleepy Seahorse again and a couple of out-of-town acts for the first time.

I counted about twelve people when a friend and I arrived at the Red Room.  A few more wandered in as the night progressed but not many.  So it goes.  Hopefully, all the people who could've been here were at least over at Neurolux's Radio Boise Tuesday gig.

Nampa musician Noah Jensen started off the night.  He admitted at one point that he was nervous, and it showed--had a couple of false starts here and there.  Overall, however, his serene tunes, steady tempos and pleasant tenor went over fine.  If he can tough it out through a few more gigs--and the little bite in his lyrics suggests that he can--he could become a pretty solid act.

After Noah Jensen came Joey Corsentino a.k.a. Sleeply Seahorse, whose synth/bass/drum tracks gave his performance some extra kick (not always intentionally--the sound system kinda freaked out at one point).  In any case, his fresh folk-pop melodies, his high, earnest tenor and his mature, insightful lyrics more than lived up to my fond memories of his opening set for Spondee and the Very Most.  When you can cover Tears for Fears' "Shout" and make it sound like stone cold truth, you're my kind of singer-songwriter.

Next up was the Seattle group Younger Shoulder.  High, fragile vocals rested safe and secure atop jangly guitar, sinuous basslines, winsome keyboard parts and yeomanly drums.  They formed such a strong groove that my only real complaint was that their songs felt too short.  But then again, listening to so much James Brown may have just spoiled me.

For the night's final set, Chicago-based musician Richard Album handed the bass off to the keyboard player and took the mic, leaving Younger Shoulder to serve as the Lifestyles.  His yelping, charmingly punky vocals reminded me a little of Richard Hell.  His unpolished enthusiasm seemed to seep into his bandmates, who cranked it up a couple of notches but still kept it tuneful.  It's too bad more people weren't here to see Album run through the bar and roll around onstage, but so that goes.

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Speedy Gray and guests @ the High Note Cafe (8/18/12)

I'd planned originally to check out a show at Nampa's Flying M last Saturday night until Speedy Gray sent me a message.  He had set up a gig at the High Note Cafe and invited a bunch of fellow musicians to come on down and play a few songs.  I decided to change up my plans because I've wanted to write about this new venue for a little while.

The High Note Cafe opened just a month ago and has apparently been a bit slow finding its footing.  That's somewhat inevitable, I suppose, given its location on the edge of downtown Boise (it's on 5th St. between the Flying M and Guido's where WilliB's used to be) and this economy.  I do hope that more people get hip to this place: it serves good food and beer, it boasts some excellent artwork on its walls and some solid local musicians have already performed there.

The crowd was pretty thin when I arrived around 10 pm.  Happily, more and more people wandered in as the night wore on, giving the Cafe some brisk business.  A sign of things to come?  Fingers crossed.

Folks who performed this night:

Speedy Gray--It's always a pleasure catching one of Speedy's acoustic sets.  I enjoy it when he kicks out the jams with Like A Rocket, of course, but playing acoustic gives the spotlight to his thoughtful, well-worn, quietly powerful singing.  Also, his lyrics sustain interest without the extra accompaniment.  You really oughtta hear his song about the man trapped in jail after Hurricane Katrina destroys the paperwork on his arrest.

Dave Manion--Manion supported Speedy Gray with some of the fluid, inventive guitar work that he brings to the Country Club and New Transit.  After that, he took the lead on a couple of songs.  His conversational baritone croon hit Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" right between its tear-filled eyes.

Wayne White--I'd never heard of this gentleman before this night, but I'll keep an eye/ear out for him from now on.  His astonishingly nimble guitar playing made his lovely instrumental tunes skip and soar.  He seemed to have just a little bit of trouble with the Peanuts theme song but still did far better with it than you'd expect.

Megan Nelson--This lady has what you might call a phone book voice.  That is, she could sing the phone book and make it sound great.  Nelson didn't sing the phone book, but she did grace her well-crafted original songs and a surprisingly sharp cover of Britney Spears's "Toxic" with her warm, strong, full-bodied vocals.  Very, very promising.

Z.V. House and Karen Singletary--Playing without his compatriots in A Seasonal Disguise (except for Singletary), Z.V. House revealed that actually, yeah, he is a good singer.  His rhythmic strumming provided further proof of his guitar-playing skills.  Singletary's harmonies made me think of clear streams and tall pines.  I was grateful for the chance to listen to House's intriguing lyrics, and their spot-on "Human Highway" cover made me feel like less of a presumptuous ass for all the Neil Young comparisons.

Jeff Shaw--Another newcomer to the Boise scene, Shaw's idiosyncratic drawl and guitar playing had an undeniable appeal.  He tacked on a humorously absurd spoken-word outro to the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?", and his bluesy original song held up fine next to that alt-rock classic.  A unique dude.  It'll be interesting to see how he develops from here.

You can find info about these acts (or their bands) and the High Note Cafe on Facebook and elsewhere online.