It is with great pleasure I present to you another great Beck recording of his sold out show re-opening night at San Francisco’s The Masonic. Once again, I had some level issues during the opening song which was (once again) The Golden Age. While I fiddled with the wrong dial the first couple minutes, I also accidentally cut out 5-10 seconds of audio around 2:40. Once I started recording again, I found the correct dial, and adjusted the gain to get a perfect level for the remainder of the set. You can hear this transition point at 3:02.
September 19, 2014
San Francisco, CA
Source: Core Sound Binaurals > Battery Box w/ Bass Roll-Off Filter > Roland R-05 [24/96 wav]
Transfer: R-05 > USB > PC
Edit: Sony Sound Forge Pro 11.0 > FLAC 1.3 > Tag & Rename 3.8.2
01) The Golden Age
02) Blackbird Chain
03) Blue Moon
04) Say Goodbye
05) Heart is a Drum
06) Country Down
07) Lost Cause
09) Waking Light
10) Devils Haircut
11) Black Tambourine
13) Ghettochip Malfunction / Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See Medley
14) Think I’m In Love / I Feel Love Medley
15) Soul Of A Man
20) Where It’s At / Good Times / Miss You / High 5 (Rock the Catskills) Medley
Choruses are a big part of songwriting. They don’t necessarily have to be big anthems, or easy to sing-along to, or anything like that. They come in all sorts of forms, providing familiarity to your ear, and something for the verses to build towards. It, then, takes quite a great deal of confidence to write an entire album with no discernible choruses, a tactic songwriter Andy Cabic has made a habit with all of Vetiver’s albums.
Their newest album, The Errant Charm continues this trend. His songs are the general down-on-your-luck folk meanderings that can sometimes feel commonplace, but done with a simple ease. Listening through some of Vetiver older songs, they are really good, but did not have the natural flow that rides through these new songs of The Errant Charm.
Belying this apparent songwriting confidence, though, is Cabic’s hushed, inward lead vocals (a strange but likable change over older Vetiver songs, where he often sang pretty clearly). “Can’t You Tell,” for instance, starts out with a throbbing bass beat, which gives way to Cabic singing something vague and unintelligible. All I can make out is a few words here and there, before he asks, “I’m good / can’t you tell?” More words than that are certainly unnecessary. “Fog Emotion” makes this fuzziness explicit, singing of foggy days when “my mind takes a turn back to you.” He’s haunted by a loss, confused and unclear and wondering what is happening. A lot of questions jump out — “when is this old world gonna treat me kind?” By the final song, “Soft Glass,” it feels like his vocals are disappearing entirely under the weight of emotion.
There is a couple of clunker songs on here; but for the most part everything blurs together beautifully: his whispers, shimmering slide guitar, crystal-clear acoustic guitar, slightly-odd rhythm, breezy organ, and, what surely can only be referred to as the accidental charm of these songs.
Unfortunately, much of my countdown this year consists of artists I already knew before. There were a few who were new to me (Pterodactyl Plains, Flying Lotus, Sleigh Bells), but mainly it was a good year for people I already liked. There were, though, some debut albums, by artistst who decided to step out and go solo. Adam Haworth Stephens is one of them. Stephens is the lead singer/guitarist in the intense and atmospheric blues duo, Two Gallants.
I cannot quite figure out why, but I’ve been having trouble coming up with much to say about We Live On Cliffs. (So I’ll just ramble.) It isn’t like the music is terribly extreme. Nor is it bland. There is a complexity to Stephens’ songwriting here, which I guess can make it hard to process. With Two Gallants, Stephens taps into the blues and comes up with new songs that feel amazingly authentic. It is quite a skill for a modern songwriter to have. On We Live On Cliffs, though, the blues influence is much more subtle, and the songs are much more laidback. The rawness of Two Gallants feels like it has been smoothed out, which as a description, sound terrible. But once you get into the songs, it is still there.
I reckon that the “cliff” metaphor used in the title of the album is key to many of the songs. The idea that taking a step will cause a sheer drop. Living on the edge can also leave you directionless. These are but some of the themes buried in Stephens’ songs here. On the stunning “Heights Of Diamond,” Stephens sings “‘Cause your touch still lingers on my shaky fingers / As the feeling fades away / And the bells are chiming / In the heights of diamond / As I’m trying to find my way.” Here he is, at a very particular moment, and he is not sure where he’ll go. Off the cliff? It’s possible. There are different cliff edges throughout, as well: reality vs. dreams, night vs. morning, life vs. regret. On “Southern Lights,” Stephens writes, “you know the sweeter the candy, the bitter the aftertaste / So don’t let the morning catch me here / I’m not the man that I appear.”
Anyway I feel like I just have a pile of random thoughts about these songs, which I’m sure undermines the complexity of his language, the chill melodies, the talented band. We Live On Cliffs is a skilled work by one of the top songwriters around. It is as if Stephens dug around in the blues with Two Gallants for a few albums, processed all he could, and now is finding his own style. Perhaps it is a natural progression for a songwriter to go from exploring a favorite old genre to absorbing it into your own style. Many great artists follow a similar path, like Bob Dylan or Beck. High comparisons, I know. But Stephens is moving forward in his songwriting, and I can’t imagine it dropping off a cliff.
Reviewing a live show is tough, even tougher than records. Basically, I imagine there were 17,375 Phoenix fans at the Hollywood Bowl last Saturday, and they probably all had a great time and walked away thinking, OMGZ! I mean, who am I to argue or say otherwise?
I’m not anti-Phoenix. I checked out their music prior to Coachella earlier this year, and caught about 10 minutes of their set there. Mostly I’m ambivalent. I was, however, more interested in seeing Grizzly Bear and to a lesser extent Girls. I tried to see Grizzly Bear at Coachella, but their tent was too packed, I couldn’t make it in. As for Girls, ok cool.
So, as someone not entirely wrapped up in any of the bands, I feel like I could think more about the concert-going experience and what these bands brought to the stage. Interestingly, despite their obvious differences in sound and presence, these 3 bands seem to me to have certain things in common (besides all having lame band names that are useless to look up in Google). Mainly, I noticed a similar songwriting style. I mean, I don’t believe there was any songs that had any sort of chorus; and they wrap their verses in relatively subtle riffs and melodies. This of course is cool on record, but to a giant crowd? Something felt lacking.
There are two types of live bands, in my experience: those that come out and play their songs, and those that come out and play. Girls is the first one. They came out, did their songs, and left. Though I’ll be fair, they only played for like 17 minutes. Their first couple songs made little impression, and then just as they were getting into it, their set ended.
Grizzly Bear came next. You know how their great records and songs can sometimes have an awkward yet beautiful momentum to them? Live, it’s slightly annoying. I kept hoping for a bit more groove, but all the constant changes kind of nullified it. Despite that, I’d say they came off pretty well on stage, I enjoyed their voices, and their songs have continually grown on me over the years. Halfway through, Leslie Feist came out and sang a song (and danced around and sang harmony on another), and she always sounds great.
Phoenix closed it down. They are a talented band, and have a sound that can fit in a big place like the Bowl. They definitely had a bit more muscle than either Girls or Grizzly Bear. The songs I liked the best were the ones that seemed to be built more on a synthesizer sound. Like I said, though, the lack of choruses made the show feel odd to me. I don’t want my bands to necessarily be U2 and sing a bunch of anthems, but by this point, I wanted something. Reach out and grab me, Phoenix! They did not. Since I didn’t really know any of their songs (not a radio listener, obvs), most of what they did went right through my ears.
At one point, Phoenix walked out into the middle of the crowd, and played a few songs from there. From my vantage point, up in the back, it was a giant lull in the show. But I guess that was nice for the people in that section. Also for a bit, they dropped a white curtain down and started to play behind it. I thought, hmm like The Wall? But you could see their silhouettes through it, and there was little rainbow lights lighting it up, and they kind of just noodled bass solos (which they seemed to do a lot) or something from back there. I’m not sure what statement they were making, but it certainly wasn’t anything like Pink Floyd’s statement about the wall between band and audience. I’m sure the whole thing is some sort of symbolic message about modern music I haven’t figured out.
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