Jon Benjamin Has A Drum Machine

I attended a variety show at which noted cartoon voice actor H. Jon Benjamin performed, sort of, as the musical guest.

Since the brilliant FX spy cartoon Archer might be intended as a vicious Aqua Teening of intelligence agencies and our decade of national security hysteria, you have to wonder whether lead voice actor H. Jon Benjamin may have been trying to do the same to overly serious electronic music when he took the stage last night as the musical guest for Elna Baker and Kevin Townley’s popular variety show The Talent Show. Or maybe he’d giggle a bit at the idea of his goofy show spawning such a pretentious opening line—and wouldn’t that be glorious, with his fantastic baritone.


Vote Bush In 2011


I enjoyed the Bush reunion show way more than I thought I would.

My second concert ever was Bush’s tour in support of Sixteen Stone. (I can’t bring myself to tell you the first.) This necessitated an extra ticket for a friend’s parent, who drove a van full of kids up to the arena an hour away while we giggled in the back about girls and whatever, and then sat up in the stands while we went down to the floor to explore our first-ever mosh pit. We promptly discovered crowdsurfing. “The rest of you guys, sure — but I swear, every time I looked down, Vijith was floating across the crowd,” said Jefferson’s dad after the show. As an awkward 14-year-old who couldn’t play any sports and took forever to work up the guts to admit to anybody at school that I was trying to learn to play the guitar, that’s as proud as my moments got. Bowery Ballroom in 2011, though? Totally different story — I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it was upsetting to realize as soon as I entered that it looked and smelled like a room full of Shinedown fans (hair gel, beer, sweat, shame). more

Blip In 8 Bits


Some thoughts (eight, to be precise) on the latest installment of Blip Festival, the awesome annual chiptune festival. (I went last year too.)

Fighter X: Youngish probably-hipster dudes in tight pants and floppy hair shoveling out manic, skittering Game Boy duels. Even if they sometimes came across as a sort of sleazy fun-loving Europop compared to their fellow performers (hey, there’s a place for that stuff too), the lengthy continuous set was very impressive, as was their tendency to abandon tending to the devices and instead jump around the stage or go crowd surfing, especially given that they have such small memory banks. The Game Boys, I mean. More

GWAR pop quiz


PopMatters and I would like to test your GWAR knowledge.

I can’t tell you who the opening band was because there was too much blood dripping from their logo to actually read it. GWAR, on the other hand, turned out to have a surprisingly listenable dose of perfectly competent high-powered id-metal. Listening was not the point, however. Outlandish costumes aside, you also have the accompanying rock-opera storylines and the Gallagher-esque constant spray of hopefully-washable liquids into the crowd from a variety of severed limbs and other distressing sources (penises, giant cannons—the latter had some serious range, as did the former, I guess, all things considered).

Question #7: Which of the following was not used as an excuse to spew fake blood into the crowd? a) Cow being skinned alive
b) Michael Jackson in a spacesuit getting his face ripped off, naturally starting with the nose first
c) Deformed “sin baby” fetus being aborted
d) Obama being decapitated after presenting them with the “presidential medal of ass-kicking cool shit”

Nine Inch Nails (the end!!)


This is a recent favorite, both in terms of concerts I’ve seen and reviews I’ve written: PopMatters got me into one of the astoundingly small venues at which Trent Reznor decided to stop while taking Nine Inch Nails on its farewell tour.

Apologies in advance if this will make for a lousy epitaph limerick or whatever, but it seems totally obvious and coherent that Nine Inch Nails should close up shop, and that it should be a really big deal, if only because Trent has been on the ol’ Debbie Downer kick for 20 years, always singing about things dying and ending and breaking. I had a hard time figuring out NIN as a teenager, precisely because my foo-fightin’, punkin smashin’ ears always found the singles too openly mopey, but as a nerd, this still is pretty hard to swallow: we’re losing the guy who followed up a career as the defining dark consciousness of 1990s alt-rock by then epitomizing new-millennium forward-thinking—you know, hiding USB drives in bathrooms and all that. Who’s gonna one-up Radiohead now? (I took a little pee break on the way in to the show, by the way, but found only an attendant offering paper towels and Milky Way Minis and squirts of Axe at a buck apiece.) More

Sonic Youth concert *SKRONK* review


Also recently liberated from the PopMatters vortex: Sonic Youth making a mess uptown, which was actually quite wonderful.

Thurston Moore is about eleven feet tall and looked to be about nineteen, especially in the way he flopped and flailed about with the riffs, a stark contrast to singer/wife Kim Gordon’s stoicism. At one point he even knocked over part of the lighting rig. “You gotta strap that down,” he grumbled to the nearest roadie. Lee Ranaldo, likewise, later spazzed the cable right out of his guitar mid-strum, leaving us with live contact points buzzing against the floor, which I guess didn’t actually sound all that different after all. More

Of Montreal


Finally free from months of purgatory in the PopMatters editorial chain due to a changing of the guard, my recap of the time they sent me to the Montreal Jazz Festival over the summer. (That would be a preposterously ornate mango I bought from a street vendor.)

Sorry if I tricked you into thinking this would be about Kevin Barnes and his glam-pop band; I did interview him [PDF] for Tape Op a while back, though.

Peter Bjorn and John

Peter Bjorn and John

I just reviewed last night’s impressive performance by Peter Bjorn and John for the Village Voice.

Even their most immature tunes were updated with startling verve and grandeur. Foremost among these was “Living Thing,” which turned into an energetic cross between “Not Fade Away” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Second place goes to “Object Of My Affections,” if only because of its audience participation segment, which somehow actually had everyone clapping on the correct beats. “Young Folks” didn’t fare nearly as well; ever heard several hundred people try to whistle in unison? “Lay It Down” drew some cheers with unruly lines like “Shut the fuck up, boy/You’re starting to piss me off.” But it wasn’t a fight song, or at least not a serious one — it was a party anthem, the sort of drunken spat between friends that gets worked out the next morning over hangovers and cold Pop-Tarts. Carpe diem, kids; even the worst memories from the best years of your life are worth holding onto. More

Rah Rah Tibet


Tibet House rented out Carnegie Hall for a benefit show where they actually managed to get Vampire Weekend, The National, Antibalas, Angelique Kidjo, Keb’ Mo’, Steve Earle, and Philip Glass on the same stage. And, er, Patti Smith.

The highlight punctuates one of Smith’s bouts of frenzied head-flinging: She hawks up a nice fat loogie, deposits it quite expertly all over Carnegie’s hallowed stage, and then proceeds to apologetically mop it up. What fun! More

That aside, it didn’t go as well as you might think.

Kronos Quartet concert review

The Kronos Quartet

At PopMatters, a review of the Carnegie Hall debut of the abstract new piece composed by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche for the Kronos Quartet.

I did a double take: Kotche, in his most impressive virtuoso moment of the night, was playing melodic mallet lines with one limb and percussive parts on the drum kit with the other three. It made my head hurt. Although he was compelling as a performer, his composition seemed a bit scatterbrained, perhaps a bit too eager to show all his cards in one go, as though he needed to get all his weirdo ya-ya’s out before heading back out on the road with Wilco. (To be fair, he’s not the only one grappling with that problem—paging Nels Cline.) At times, it seemed to be more about spectacle than sound; we were probably a good twelve minutes in before he so much as hit his snare drum. His art-house technique of choice seemed to change every few bars (the cracking of twigs into a microphone being the most obnoxious phase) and I shuddered at the thought of what he might have planned for the giant gleaming golden gong planted stage left. More

My Brightest Diamond not so bright

My Brightest Diamond

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last few albums from My Brightest Diamond, but much to my surprise, last month’s show at (Le) Poisson Rouge left me lukewarm. (To be fair, I had spent the whole day at Santacon, which is pretty hard to top.)

With the strings already accounted for, who exactly is going to pick up the slack when you nix the distorted guitars or the drums? Because it sure isn’t the voice leading. This is not to say that we need faithful reproductions—an unexpected harmonic departure in the middle of “Inside A Boy” is angular, jarring, and by far most interesting interjection of the set, and when the strings swell up underneath and take over at the end, it’s absolutely sublime. I’m all for artistic growth and boldly traveling into new musical territory, but unfortunately these adaptations are a little too haphazard—or maybe just understaffed—and Worden’s magic has been lost in translation. Maybe it’s just that her strength is as a recording artist, with all the trappings and rhinestones and cheese sauces, and not as a barebones songwriter. More

You don’t have to take my word for it, though: the show was filmed in its entirety by a fan and has been posted online.

TV On The Radio in the newspaper over the internet


At PopMatters, a review of Blipfest 2008, the largest chiptune show of the year.

I’ve fiddled with the programming enough to know that this stuff doesn’t come easily. There’s a certain sameness to a lot of it on the surface—all lo-fi electronic music in 4/4 with house-derived “drum” sequences which rely on filtered white noise—but after taking in a couple of sets, the differences between the artists become more readily apparent. Bucket-headed spaz-dancer Sulumi’s restless melodies were a fantastic highlight, skipping across the room like so many chips of shale across a Mario 2-2 swimming level, but geek-chic Asian chick Bubblyfish had the most depth, with an enthralling opener which expertly transitioned from jovial Katamari plinks to ominous Metroid gloom over the course of ten minutes. More
Pazz and Jop 2008 Cover

In the Village Voice, Pazz and Jop 2008, the long-running annual music roundup in which I was invited to be a small blip myself.

Heavy metal satire


An open letter to DragonForce:

As the most outlandish example of everything-to-excess metal, DragonForce simply has to be intended as parody, in which case it’s absolute genius; rarely does a lampoon simultaneously become the champion of that which it mocks. More

CMJ 2008


I hit the streets for CMJ with several other PopMatters writers, and we all threw up some posts every night onto the Notes From The Road blog. Mine included Vivian Girls, Dexter Romweber, Giveamanakick (pictured above, as they were the best of the bunch), Annuals, Minus The Bear, and Dragons Of Zynth.

Chris Thile, Brad Mehldau, and Barack Obama

Chris Thile

The looming election and the recent economic collapse were weighing heavy on my mind when I tried to cover an admittedly political outing by Nickel Creek mandolin player Chris Thile and pianist Brad Mehldau, and the PopMatters editors decided to save the results for publication on election day.

The stiff entry fee might overshoot by quite a bit, but the leftovers will buy you karma: Proceeds go to the Obama campaign—after all, outspending the Republicans by a factor of three has to come from somewhere. So here we are, just a few blocks from where Lehman Brothers officially launched the downfall of Western Civilization a few weeks ago, trying to rally the elites who still have hearts. The room is well under capacity, though, which is troublesome both politically and culturally. More

Nullsleep live review


Jeremiah Johnson makes lo-fi techno using video game hardware, and you’d be astonished at how competent it is.

The assumption that Johnson is mixing together sets of different video game soundtracks is a pretty common mistake. The guts of this process are actually considerably more interesting, though: Specific timbres and pitch sequences are programmed using special cartridges—some homebrew software burns on blank cartridges made with expensive proprietary writers, others imported from Europe thanks to an industrious German—and are then sent through an amplifier several hundred times larger than the carts they start on. But it’s not quite that simple—first, the signals have to pass through Johnson himself. More

Bord out of my mind


The original version of this article was over-the-top obnoxious to the point of absolute hilarity. Er, much like the band in question. So much so, in fact, that the editors toned it down, which is kind of a shame.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the (hed) p.e. comeback tour.

“Outside” still generated the most enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, which says something for a band that has been through a fair number of albums and singles (and probably a midlife crisis or two) since their breakout hit almost ten years ago. I wanted to shout out “I’m feelin’ those lighters, y’all” like Fred Durst did on the 1999 original from the Family Values tour live album, but ultimately opted not to risk a beat-down—the room was seething with spiky-haired dudes who probably fancied themselves metalheads.


Aesop Rock

Aesop Rock Long Island’s finest verbal nerd helps the fantastic McCarren Park Pool Parties wind down. Sadly, I only made it out there this once.

“This is one of the best days of my career right here,” Aesop says as the turntable belts start to cool. Musicians are generally full of shit, and usually they’re lying when they say things like that in Cleveland, but here I’m inclined to buy it: I can’t remember the last time I was at a show that transcended its circumstances like this.


Rain on yo’ head

Radiohead bear

Mehan Jayasuriya and I wrote a fairly long article together about our experiences at a Radiohead concert a while back. (Spoiler: it was a total disaster for him). I’m particularly pleased with this one because it breaks away from the usual format of concert reviews.

If the first few songs from “Kid A” left you wondering where the hell the guitars were, “Idioteque” was the moment where you finally had to face the dawning realization that they weren’t ever going to show up. As such, it’s the focal point of all those modernist adjectives that everyone insists on lobbing at Radiohead’s electronic incarnation: “post-apocalyptic” and “angst-ridding futurism” and so on. It is also, by a mile, the highlight of the night. Phil Selway cedes control of the tempo to metronomic pitch glitches, their intertwined phrasing creating a cyborg drummer as Johnny Greenwood’s latest and greatest effects pad concoctions slosh over everything else. The stage lights up with grids that change on every beat like a Tetris game with no discernible rules, but the graph paper is drunk, the squares instead turning into trapezoids and rhomboids. If there’s a macro-level point to this band, it’s ensuring that the future will have a pulse. More

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

On British Sea Power via PopMatters:

At times, touring violinist Abi Fry draws out long, languid notes that connect each palm mute to the next. Or at least, that’s what I think she’d be doing if she weren’t totally drowned out by the guitars. When she wraps herself around the intricate finger-picking figures, it’s absolutely gorgeous. It also happens only once all night.

Gentle guitar crunches layered over one another only go so far, you see, and half the songs come across as excellent instrumental beds that don’t really put anything of value up front. Neither of the Wilkinson brothers is a particularly strong singer, so the band’s strongest moments come about when a trumpet meanders through or when Fry starts digging in. “No Lucifer” has the best drum work of the night, with drummer Matthew Wood expertly rumbling his way across the toms in what seem to be perpetual fills, each thud impeccably timed. Unfortunately, it all gets buried under the damn guitars again. There are three keyboards on stage, but I can’t promise that any of them are actually plugged in.