Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Gaslight Anthem @ Marathon Music Works (Concert Review)

One of the trademarks of a truly great band – you know, the kind who routinely get tagged with qualifiers like quintessential and legendary – is their ability to perfectly straddle the line between road-tested professionalism and reckless abandon. For The Gaslight Anthem’s much-anticipated return to Nashville, they effortlessly played the part of the luxury railroad car threatening to jump the tracks at any moment. Blending the bravado of punk, the drama of rock and the velvety cool of soul music, Brian Fallon and the boys had a packed out Marathon Music Works dancing elbow to elbow and singing along to every lyric at the top of their lungs. For a band like The Gaslight Anthem, fans don't just like them, they believe in them and a concert isn't just a show, it's a rock & roll rite of passage. While that all may sound a bit hyperbolic, it's none the less true. While fellow Garden Staters Bon Jovi were playing across town on the very same night, The Gaslight Anthem proved that New Jersey's finest had set up shop here.  

There's a certain irreverently reverential air to Gaslight Anthem shows. They mix time-honored traditions - influential walk-on music (The Replacement's "Can't Hardly Wait" for this tour) crashing into the opening number and always closing out the main set with "The Backseat" - with surprises like an ever-changing setlist that features obscure numbers and rarely played gems scattered throughout the mainstays. Even though Gaslight rose up through the punk rock ranks, each successive album has showcased a more nuanced and layered side to the band's repertoire. With four full-length records and a handful of EPs and singles to choose songs from, their concerts have become a diverse sonic stretch through punk anthems, emotive ballads, huge rock chorus, quiet hymns, gritty blues and a rich amalgam of genres that can only be described as "the Gaslight sound."    

Wednesday's night show featured a setlist that was heavy on their smash sophomore release The '59 Sound and their most recent record Handwritten, recorded here in Nashville last year. They opened the show with the explosive "Howl" and the crowd kept in step with every word Brian sang, threatening at many moments to even overpower him. Up for the challenge, the band then launched into a trio of tracks from The '59 Sound, arguably their best loved record to date. After a spirited tromp through the pounding "45," they dipped back into their debut, Sink or Swim, for Brian's love letter to The Clash, "I'da Called You Woody, Joe." The next two songs they played is a great example of their love for throwing the occasional curveball into the mix. "Our Father's Sons" is a song that can only be found on their iTunes Session digital EP and "Blue Dahlia" is a bonus track that's only on the deluxe edition of Handwritten. However, with how the crowd continued to singalong without missing a step, you would've thought these were some of their most successful singles. They continued this successful pattern of album-specific chunks broken up by random beloveds and by the time they launched into  "The Backseat," the crowd was not ready to let them call it a night. They came back out for an encore of 4 more fan favorites and as Brian bid the crowd "good night" and charged into "Great Expectations," the crowd erupted like it was the last song they'd ever sing. With the band truly firing on all cylinders and continuing to crank out some of the best music the genre has to offer, thankfully it doesn't appear that'll be happening any time soon. 

 “Can’t Hardly Wait” (intro music)
- Howl
- Casanova, Baby!
- Old White Lincoln
- Film Noir
- “45”
- I’da Called You Woody, Joe
- Our Father’s Sons
- Blue Dahlia
- Biloxi Parish
- Mulholland Drive
- Too Much Blood
- The Queen of Lower Chelsea
- Wooderson
- Meet Me By The River’s Edge
- Here Comes My Man
- The ’59 Sound
- Here’s Looking At You, Kid
- The Backseat
- American Slang
- The Patient Ferris Wheel
- Mae
- Great Expectations


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Escondido @ The High Watt - Album Release Show (Concert Review)

On an unusually snowy Friday night in Nashville, Escondido continually wowed and wooed an enthusiastic crowd for one of the best nights of music I've ever experienced in this fair city.

Celebrating the release of their new debut album The Ghost of Escondido, Jessica Maros and Tyler James used the opportunity to prove that your first album doesn't have to sound like a first album. Backed by an incredible 4-piece band, Jessica and Tyler impressively recreated the incredible sonic atmosphere of The Ghost of Escondido, while still adding a few minor tweaks here and there to make their live show a truly unique experience. In a time when a plethora of studio trickery can propel a band past their talents (or lack thereof), it's so refreshing and enjoyable to hear a band that is so authentically gifted and musically creative. 

Escondido played the entirety of The Ghost of Escondido and they even threw in a few special surprises at the end of the set. They opened with "Evil Girls" and as soon as Jessica started singing, my ears were mesmerized by the smokey tone of her vocals. Tyler's spaghetti western trumpet lines really set the "desert starry night" ambiance perfectly as well. As they nailed one song after the other, it was really cool to watch the duo having fun and enjoying the crowd. Jessica's Stevie Nicks meets June Carter Cash stage persona and Tyler's mile-wide smile showed just how much fun they were having playing together. While every single song was spot on, highlights of the initial set included the bluesy drive of "Bad Without You," the ghostly sway of "Willow Tree," the cinematic trumpet of "Rodeo Queen," and the singalong chorus of "Cold October." 

Once Escondido finished playing through The Ghost of Escondido, they played a trio of spectacular non-album songs that showed they've got even more incredible music up their sleeves for their next album. First up was a jaw-dropping cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" that was as smolderingly amazing as, or possibly even a smidge better than (blasphemy!), the original. They then played two brand new songs that are already slated for their next album. First up was slow-build burner "Midnight Train" featuring Tyler playing some tasty keys and then the rocking swagger of "Uh-Huh" to close things out. Never have I been to a debut album release show where such a brand new band was so successful at recreating the sonic oomph of the album (much less surpassing it) as Escondido was able to last night. Forget any "they sound like x" comparisons, Escondido is already a standalone act that can more than back it up in a live setting. 


- "Evil Girls"
- "Bad Without You"
- "Cold October"
- "Rodeo Queen"
- "Willow Tree"
- "Special Enough"
- "Keep Walkin'"
- "Black Roses"
- "Chase the Moon"
- "Don't Love Me Too Much"
- "Wicked Game" (Chris Isaak cover)
- "Midnight Train" (new song)
- "Uh-Huh" (new song)

Also, in case you want more Escondido (and who doesn't?), here's an interview I did with them for CMT Edge last week:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Interview with Mount Moriah

(Here's my most recent article for CMT Edge.)
To hear the rustic Americana tones that gently amble throughout Mount Moriah’s sophomore album, Miracle Temple, you’d never guess its members came from such aggressively diverse musical backgrounds.
Vocalist and principal lyricist Heather McEntire formerly fronted punk band Bellafea, and guitarist Jenks Miller has released experimental metal albums under the moniker Horseback. However, both musicians had a desire to return to the roots-inspired musical framework of their childhood, resulting in their formation of Mount Moriah back in 2008.
While their self-titled debut album could be considered introspective and unassuming, Mount Moriah have returned with an emboldened follow-up inMiracle Temple on Merge Records. Showcasing a newfound fearlessness in their vocals and instrumentation, the album contains elements of celebration, confession and critique, all working together to forge a path of forward momentum.
CMT Edge: You formed Mount Moriah to be able to create within a different musical vein from your punk and metal bands. Did the roots-inspired elements come from certain places in your backgrounds, or were they just completely new opportunities you wanted to try?
Miller: The roots element was always there as a deep-seated and well-worn quality of this place — however you want to define it — our state, North Carolina, the South at large and the ever-changing American landscape. Heather and I both grew up within the Southern musical tradition: classic country, bluegrass, old-time, acoustic folk. The kind of music you used to find tucked away at the bottom of the FM dial or traded on stages at roots music festivals. I grew up in Raleigh where many of those festivals were presented by the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music.
We both experienced the crucial break with those traditions that all restless spirits do. Now, as we build our own homes in the same state, we have the opportunity to revisit those traditions in ways that make sense to us. Like every investigation of roots and traditions, this means recasting early memories into new shapes in an effort to find what’s real about them, why they matter and how they might continue to matter to us and to others.
I noticed a lot of city names and geographical references in your lyrics. Do you attribute that to wanderlust, or is it just a commentary on the life of a traveling musician?
McEntire: I’m sure it’s a bit of both. I seem to associate emotions and memories with real tangible and grounded sources of place. Maybe it helps me catalog my past more efficiently. I’m not sure. I didn’t travel much growing up, so maybe that’s why I find it so powerful and inspiring as an adult, fascinated with journey and changing landscapes. I like the movement. In a way, taking myself away from home and outside my daily rhythms seem to help me see more deeply into them. Writing about it helps me make better sense of it all.
Miracle Temple exudes an impressive shift in confidence from your debut album. What are some of the factors that contributed to this growth?
Miller: Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head with “confidence.” We madeMiracle Temple after multiple national tours supporting our self-titled record, after trials experienced both as individuals and as a band and after learning valuable lessons about what it takes to keep making music these days. Those things helped renew our sense of purpose and allowed us to recommit to a vision that has been tugging at our spirits for years.
Merge’s involvement helped out tremendously, as well. They gave us access to resources we didn’t otherwise have access to and helped steer this ship out of the harbor and into broader waters, as it were.
Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls contributes some heavenly background vocals to three of the songs on the album. What does it mean to you personally to have such a respected, experienced presence on the album, and what specifically did she bring to those songs?
McEntire: Having Amy Ray sing words and melodies that I wrote is a total dream and tremendously exciting. I asked her to sing on those songs specifically because, living in the South and confronting similar scenarios, I knew she could empathize with the narratives. At this point, we’re close friends. She gets what those words mean to me. I love how soulful and passionate her vocals are on this record. She has mentored me in a lot of ways, and I’m always honored and grateful to collaborate with her.
I love the Springteen-like storytelling quality on Miracle Temple, especially in songs like “Union Street Bridge” and “Younger Days.” How much of your songwriting is pulled from your personal life and how much is just fun creative fiction?
McEntire: Almost everything is pulled from my personal life in one way or another, some of it more abstractly and indirectly and some of it quite literally. The exception on Miracle Temple is “Union Street Bridge,” a song that I co-wrote with poet Sarah Messer. She sent me two poems that she had written, and I interpreted them in my own way and wrote a narrative that sort of exists within her narrative. I have become close to the characters in that song, and when I sing it, I can’t help but apply some of the lyrics to my own life.
Can you tell us about the origin of the striking photo on the album cover and why you chose that image to represent the album?
Miller: Merge’s awesomely capable design guru, Maggie Fost, came across that cover after we all talked about the imagery we had in mind for the cover. We all thought the burning barn suggested change, rebirth and reinvention — themes that were important both to the music on this record and the process of bringing it to life.
The last line on the album states “Like flies in a jar, we are mostly harmless, except for this vanishing hour of darkness.” What’s hidden within the haunting poetry of that closing thought?
McEntire: That line is about recognizing your own humanity, your own margin of error. I was thinking about atonement, imperfection, brevity, purity, intention and curiosity. We can be good people with compassionate hearts and still be capable of stumbling into darkness. I wrote this song to remind myself of the pain of deceit, to punish myself — but also to ask for forgiveness and transcend it.