Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

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Jawbreaker Take No Prisoners at Brooklyn Steel on Tuesday Night

February 28th, 2018

Jawbreaker – Brooklyn Steel – February 27, 2018


Photos courtesy of Greg Pallante | gregpallante.com

Out of all of the beloved disbanded cult groups of the ’90s, Jawbreaker seemed like the last ones holding out on a reunion. But that all changed last summer, as the influential Bay Area punks reunited to headline Chicago’s annual Riot Fest to thousands of fans, many of them not even alive during the band’s initial tenure. In their absence, Jawbreaker’s legacy as one of punk’s most sacred best-kept secrets has grown into monolithic proportions. If you bring up their names in conversation, chances are the person you’re talking to has either never heard of them or they are that person’s favorite band. A friend of mine once drunkenly declared that Jawbreaker’s chief songwriter, Blake Schwarzenbach, was his Dylan.

Prior to Riot Fest, Schwarzenbach hinted that there was a 90-percent chance the band would be playing NYC after the festival. And so tickets went insanely fast once this three-night run at Brooklyn Steel was announced, as fans from all over hoped to flock to see the Jawbreaker reunion no one ever thought would happen. Tuesday was their second night in Kings County, supported by local comedian Clare O’Kane and a “surprise guest,” which turned out to be Waxahatchee, a perfect fit, as singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield has always had the same kind of world-weary emotional detail to her lyrics as Schwarzenbach does. Along with a four-piece band, including her sister Allison on guitar and keyboards, they played a short set running through most of last year’s great Out in the Storm.

A giant Jawbreaker banner was raised, and eager fans could finally rest assured that this was all really happening, as Schwarzenbach, bassist Chris Bauermeister and drummer Adam Pfahler walked onstage. The sold-out crowd, bathed in the house lights, exploded as Schwarzenbach strummed the opening riff to the classic single “Boxcar,” and from then on, the band took no prisoners. The set was mainly comprised of songs from their two best-loved albums, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and their one dance with major-label success, Dear You. Jawbreaker sounded fantastic as they ripped through songs like “Save Your Generation,” “Jinx Removing” and “Sluttering (May 4th),” like they were long-lost anthems from a parallel world where there was a healthy sense of justice. Schwarzenbach joked throughout that they were filming the show as a “Netflix comedy special,” and with how funny some of his banter was, it didn’t seem too unrealistic.

Jawbreaker closed the main set with a blistering version of “Condition Oakland” and returned to play a couple more. They opened their encore with one of their earliest songs, “Want,” which had the entire crowd singing it’s “Ay-yay-yay-yay I want you” chorus in complete unison. The band then closed out the performance with their brilliant ode to drunken, unrequited love, “Kiss the Bottle,” with Clare O’Kane resurfacing from backstage to crowd-surf on top of the passionate audience. When it was all over, fans poured out onto the streets still amazed by what they had just seen. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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Leif Vollebekk Chats and Tells Stories at Rough Trade NYC on Friday

December 18th, 2017

Leif Vollebekk – Rough Trade NYC – December 15, 2017


Leif Vollebekk has a lot to say. At times during a snowy Friday night at Rough Trade NYC made warm by the cheer brought by the Ottawa, Ont., native’s visceral and fatty folk cuts, he seemed more eager to talk to the audience than to play the songs that framed his tangents. But this is simply because Vollebekk’s rich organ-and-guitar-laden outpouring is so effortless. Song is his first language and its communication seems like second nature. His is the kind of voice that makes you let down your guard. Once his country-boy rasp reaches you, you allow it in because it speaks of travels you’ve taken or have dreamed of taking and so many of the relatable feelings of living through them.

Vollebbekk is a torchbearer for the original soul and folk artists of the 20th century, those who we can now only listen to through earphones. This is why seeing him channel artists like young Dylan and Jeff Buckley live is such a thrill. This year’s Twin Solitude augmented Vollebbekk’s authentic, personal songwriting with a more sensual production and many of its songs filled the room on Friday. “Vancouver Time,” “All Night Sedans,” “Elegy,” “Big Sky Country,” “Michigan” and “Telluride” were played with unforced measure, inviting you into his narrative visions, moved along by the slow vibrations of bass guitar and brushed drum strokes behind him. Vollebekk’s 2014 breakout album, North Americana, was visited as well, with “Off the Main Drag” freezing people in their place.

One thing you walked away thinking, back out in the snow, slowly coming to from the trance Leif Vollebekk’s soulful potions had put you in is that he’s a good hang. His music can bring a smile and an upwelling of humanity from the stiffest and most repressed, which is why we need to keep encouraging his likes to play for us, to show us how to take a long look around and take it all in. Performances like his remind you that in the midst of the overload, earnest storytelling through sweet sound is something to slow down and stop for. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesosteinberg.com

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Lukas Nelson Goes Real and Raw at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 21st, 2017

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 20, 2017

Lukas Nelson, yep, Willie’s son, mmm hmm, sounds remarkably similar in voice, yada yada yada. We get that out of the way because it’s a little cliché by now, although Nelson certainly had to know what he was signing up for in the wake of his dad’s more-than-60 year career as a legend of country and popular music—and sounding a little, or a lot, like dear old dad ain’t exactly something to sweat. But the even better news is that Lukas is doing a damn fine job carving his own path while staying true to his pedigree: His music goes deep, sounds great loud or soft, tugs at downright Willie-like strands of universal truth and heartache, and is a rollicking good time, through and through.

Nelson and his stalwart band, Promise of the Real, closed a slam-bang tour last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, showing he and they have learned a lot from two musical fathers, Willie, of course, and also Neil Young, whose been backed by Promise of the Real off and on for the last two years. But the takeaway is that Lukas isn’t the second coming of either Willie or Young so much as the first coming of Lukas Nelson. His was a gutsy, emotional, genre-hopping set, heavy with material from Promise of the Real’s outstanding eponymous 2017 album, and full feeling at just over an hour and a half. Behind the throttle of a six-piece band that incorporated soulful keys as often as it did gnarly pedal steel, it was possible to call this good-time rock and roll without further pinning it down, although the show had everything from country and soul to ragged blues and bar-band boogie.

“Set Me Down on a Cloud” soared like a gospel tune, while “Four Letter Word” and “Die Alone” were roughed-up rock, sometimes in an early ’70s Stones vein. “Fool Me Once” was a Lukas tune that seemed to straddle honky-tonk and R&B, shot through with gorgeous organ. “Just Outside of Austin” sounded like Willie, but perhaps even more like Glen Campbell, unpretentious and introspective. Throughout, Nelson and team showed a knack for set-list composition, including a mid-show acoustic set and also throwing in some Tom Petty (an acoustic, slow-swinging “Breakdown” with superb crowd accompaniment and a thrilling “American Girl”), and, in perhaps an early Thanksgiving nod to The Last Waltz, the Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” with opener Nikki Lane and members of her band. If there was a standout, it might have been the stand-back-or-get-bowled-over “Forget About Georgia,” which sounded like what old Willie might if he were in a howling mood and fronting Crazy Horse. It began as a bleary-eyed honky-tonk croon and, over 10-plus minutes, mutated into a wailing guitar squall. It was raw and real, no promises needed. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

Photos courtesy of Marc Millman Photography | www.marcmillmanphotos.com/music

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Catch Up with Old Crow Medicine Show on Monday at Brooklyn Steel

August 18th, 2017

As purveyors of old-timey music, for nearly 20 years, Old Crow Medicine Show—Ketch Secor (fiddle, harmonica, banjo, guitar, mandolin and vocals), Critter Fuqua (banjo, guitars, accordion and vocals), Kevin Hayes (guitjo and vocals), Morgan Jahnig (bass and vocals), Chance McCoy (fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin and vocals) and Cory Younts (mandolin, drums, keys, harmonica and vocals)—have been spinning “traditional folk and bluegrass yarns with a rock and roll attitude,” according to AllMusic. They’re known for their fiery, energetic live performances and have released five studio albums, including 2014’s Remedy (stream it below), which the Guardian noted for its “impressive Americana with raw energy and classy musicianship.” Earlier this year, Old Crow Medicine Show (above, covering “Just Like a Woman”) released a live recording of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, appropriately titled 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde (stream it below). And now in mid-tour form, they play Brooklyn Steel on Monday night. Joshua Hedley opens the show.

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Conor Oberst Headlines Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park

July 18th, 2017

What a thrilling ride it’s been to watch Conor Oberst (above, performing “Tachycardia” at the Sydney Opera House) grow up. Beginning his insanely prolific singer-songwriter career, as Bright Eyes, at the ripe age of 13, Oberst’s releases have tested the limits of multiple genres (check out his politically charged punk band Desaparecidos if you need proof) all while strengthening his skills as one of the best lyricists of the past 20 years. And while it might be lazy to throw out the Dylan comparisons, hey, they both grew up in the Midwest. There must be something in the water? Oberst has put out records in the past under his own name accompanied by the Mystic Valley Band, but his 2008 eponymous album (stream it below) was truly his first solo venture. Last year’s Ruminations (stream it below) went further down that path as he stripped down his songs to their ribcages with only Oberst playing guitar, piano and the occasional harmonica. He later released a full-band companion version of that album titled Salutations with Catskill Mountains’ favorite sons the Felice Brothers acting as his backing band. Oberst and the Felice Brothers will bring songs from his entire career to the Prospect Park Bandshell on Thursday for an electrifying night of music. Philly rock royalty Hop Along and Brooklyn’s own Big Thief will open. Show up early so you don’t miss these two great bands for what will be one of the most stacked bills of the summer. —Pat King | @MrPatKing

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Catch the Cave Singers Tomorrow Night at Mercury Lounge

July 11th, 2017

When his previous band, Pretty Girls Make Graves, called it quits in 2007, guitarist Derek Fudesco teamed up with former Cobra High drummer Marty Lund and former Hint Hint singer Pete Quirk to start a new one, the Cave Singers, to make rock music with a folk bent (think: Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie). The Seattle three-piece had enough material for their first album, Invitation Songs (stream it below), within months of forming. A second disc, Welcome Joy (stream it below), followed two years later, and after the third, the-more-electric-than-acoustic No Witch (stream it below), was released in 2011, the trio became a four-piece with the addition of Fleet Foxes multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson on bass. Their first album as a quartet, the terrific Naomi (stream it below)—perhaps heavier on the rock than the folk—came out in 2013, and the Cave Singers (above, performing “That’s Why” live in studio for KEXP FM) followed that with their fifth LP, last year’s Banshee (stream it below). “The finished product shows the group understands very well what works for them,” said AllMusic. “Banshee is a smart and impressive piece of work that speaks to the mind and the soul with similar clarity.” The Cave Singers kick off their new tour tomorrow night at Mercury Lounge. Brooklyn’s LAPêCHE open the show.

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Kevin Morby Sells Out The Bowery Ballroom Ahead of New Album

May 25th, 2017

Kevin Morby – The Bowery Ballroom – May 24, 2017


Kevin Morby’s upcoming album, City Music, is an ode to this country’s metropolises, especially New York City. Fulfilling a “dream come true,” he played a packed Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday night, featuring many songs from the new record and filling them with the tangled, contradictory energy of the city. Morby opened with the title track, singing, “Oh that city music, oh that city sound,” two guitars jostling like taxis down an avenue, the music setting the audience in that liminal space between sway and dance before finally kicking into a double-time, double-energy finish that pushed things over the edge. The rest of the show seemed to teeter like this, Morby and the band itself like a city between night and day, romance and stoicism, dreams and reality.

Morby got his start in Woods and it felt appropriate that his band was made up of musicians who either came from other groups or are on their way to solo careers, including Nick Kinsey (Kinsey) on drums, Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) on lead guitar and Cyrus Gengras on bass. Together they were formidable, as equally comfortable creating hypnotic soundscapes as they were unleashing full-on guitar jams. The highlights featured all facets and more, like “Destroyer,” “Harlem River” and “I Have Been to the Mountain,” each opening into a variety of surprises, funky or thoughtful or full-on psychedelic. As inspired as the band was, Morby’s songs stood on their own and “Beautiful Strangers,” played solo “for Manchester,” resonated with every lyric.

I couldn’t have been the only one in the sold-out room who picked up on shades of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed in Morby’s songwriting and voice as he sang songs about New York City, like “Parade” and the album-closing “Downtown’s Lights,” in New York City. So, it was not a surprise, but no less satisfying when he covered a song by each, closing the set solo on a Dylan-birthday tribute of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” and finishing the three-song encore with a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll.” For the latter, Morby brought out Sam Cohen on third guitar, creating an appropriately city-sized noise to end the night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Chris Robinson Brotherhood Take Their Time at the Space at Westbury

November 21st, 2016

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – the Space at Westbury – November 18, 2016

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)


I’ve seen the Chris Robinson Brotherhood do their pie-eyed, soulful thing plenty now, and the word I keep going back to is unhurried, which doesn’t mean slow, for this band can cook up a good old rock and roll, blues or country racket when called for. But that does mean you go at their pace: a deliberate, expansive set or two of deeply fleshed out and not-a-little-cosmic Americana that insists you groove in its orbit or that you politely leave the rocket ship. It may not be for everybody, but in every year since the band’s 2011 inception, yielding to what the CRB does has been rewarding for the willing listener.

Robinson and his band of aces—guitarist Neal Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Tony Leone—throw back to a time when rock, blues, country and folk were painted with Day-Glo and didn’t mind a layer of stardust. Their music feels nostalgic but embraceable and honest. Those wistful moments that might sound sad or might sound accepting depend on how a guitar string is plucked, meshed with those more celebratory, up-tempo, let’s-kick-it type of songs. They can be short statements or long statements or really long statements, protracted with jam segments that can veer toward an ambient soundscape or burn with the gnarly guitars of a Tuesday night at the roadhouse.

They’re encyclopedic too, and that reach goes wide and deep. This two-setter at the Space at Westbury on Friday featured songs by Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”), Jackie Moore (“Precious Precious”), Bob Dylan (“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”) and New Riders of the Purple Sage (“Last Lonely Eagle”) tucked between CRB originals and songs from Robinson’s previous associations given new life by this band (“I Ain’t Hiding,” came from the Black Crowes while “Tumbleweed in Eden” and “Train Robbers” drew from the brief, turbulent life of Robinson’s 2002-2004 era band, New Earth Mud). None of those felt out of place, but rather they were bent to the groovy CRB m.o. such that a well-trodden tune like “Baby Blue” had a livelier, hootenanny feel than the regretful folk sound it’s most often associated with. Robinson was as ever the band’s centerpiece. He’s still the charismatic hippie-with-an-edge howler he always was leading the Crowes, and with Leone and Hill keeping things humming—and from veering off course—Casal and MacDougall become its painters, working with a significant range of tones and colors both earthy (Casal’s paint-peeler slide guitar) and spacey (MacDougall’s spattering psych-out effects).

Together, the fivesome offered a few hours of vignettes: the mournful then defiant narrator of “Train Robbers,” which began as spooky country before erupting into vocal howls and volcanic guitar, the vicious rock and roll of “I Ain’t Hiding” (“Ain’t your saint, ain’t your enemy/ I’m a long shadow on the highway”), the big dreams and tortured realities of “Forever as the Moon” and “Star or Stone,” plus the drunk-on-life rambling in “Rosalee,” which began and ended the second set as effectively one long sandwich. And if there’s a newer song from the band’s rapidly growing catalog that takes its place among its best and most complete statements, it’s “Narcissus Soaking Wet,” which on this tour has been a second-set showpiece, getting really cosmic and Dead-y, a lengthy tale of myth. It’s a song to get lost in from a band really good at making them. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Catch Damien Jurado at The Bowery Ballroom on Sunday Night

November 4th, 2016

Surrounded by a city bursting with grunge music, Damien Jurado rose up in mid-’90s Seattle making a name for himself as an acoustic-folk singer-songwriter. More interested in blazing his own path rather than following the trail, he’s modeled his career after musicians with unpredictable discographies, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Randy Newman—his work often filled with what AllMusic calls “concise, literate tales of quiet, everyday despair.” Recently, Jurado (above, performing “Exit 353” and “Kola” for Bird on the Wire) has been delving more into psychedelia, as witnessed on the ’70s-influenced trilogy of Maraqopa (stream it below), Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son (stream it below) and this year’s Visions of Us on the Land (stream it below). “As works of mood-altering music go, Jurado has upped the dosage with Visions. It’s a harrowing trip, led by a guide who’s all too familiar with the territory,” according to NPR Music. And AllMusic adds: “It’s an intense and trippy odyssey, one that should make fans old and new appreciative of Jurado’s depth.” Make your weekend last just a little bit longer with Damien Jurado at The Bowery Ballroom on Sunday night. Doug Keith opens the show.

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Whitney Sound Like Heaven at Music Hall of Williamsburg

October 11th, 2016

Whitney – Music Hall of Williamsburg – October 10, 2016

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)


What’s a young band to do, touring behind their much-acclaimed debut album? Throw out to the world every song you have and play with everything you’ve got. In this instance, the band was Chicago’s Whitney and the world was Music Hall of Williamsburg: “I wanna say the biggest venue we ever sold out,” said frontman-drummer Julien Ehrlich. Whitney played through their entire LP (10 songs), plus two covers last night, with the chops and tightness of a band that has that many albums recorded to their name rather than songs.

Led by Ehrlich at center stage, Whitney kicked off the performance with “Dave’s Song,” a momentum-shifting number that exploded into its hook-y melodic bliss mid-song, only to keep on expanding from there. Next came the summery anthem  “No Matter Where We Go,” featuring the catchiest guitar riffs sprinkled in from guitarist Max Kakacek (former member of Smith Westerns), which evolved into a jaunty, song-stealing solo. The forlorn and lovesick “Polly,” flirted with a maximalist chorus, offering only hints of it before ending in a beautiful trumpet solo from Will Miller. It’s not too often that you see indie bands fucking around with a trumpet, but Whitney perfectly worked the instrument’s buttery crispness into their melodic assaults.

The extended instrumental “Red Moon” featured everyone trading solos, beginning with Miller on the trumpet. Next came the Bob Dylan cover “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” sung wonderfully by Ehrlich—trading in Dylan’s Kermit the Frog–croon for his own gentle tenor. (Whitney also covered NRBQ’s “Magnet” in their encore.) The cheery “Golden Days” was introduced as a love song, “No Woman,” as a tune about having no girlfriend, and “Follow” as a song about death. But all three made for sing-alongs, carrying with each of them an optimistic, sunny feel in their own right, even the latter, which was inspired by the death of Ehrlich’s grandfather. With a band putting out music this strong, even tunes about death end up sounding like heaven. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

(Whitney play The Bowery Ballroom tonight.)

 

 

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Spend Friday Night with Goldroom and Autograf at Terminal 5

October 5th, 2016

Los Angeles electronic producer and singer-songwriter Josh Legg began making music under the name Goldroom (above, his video for “Lying to You”) five years ago, influenced by the likes of Daft Punk, Bob Dylan, LCD Soundsystem and Nirvana. And following the release of three EPs, his acclaimed debut studio album, West of the West (stream it below), came out just a couple of weeks ago, providing “a romantic and ambitious soundtrack to end your summer on a high note,” according to Vanity Fair. “No matter the listener’s age, the world could use a little more magic—and Goldroom just may be the man to bring it.” He’s currently out on the road in support of the new music with Chicago house trio Autograf (below, doing a live remix of Odesza’s “All We Need”)—Jake Carpenter, Louis Kha and Mikul Win—who pair “glitched vocals, lurking bass lines and live instrumentation from custom-built instruments” and put as much emphasis on the visuals as they do on getting people to have a good time. And if you’re one of those people looking for a good time, don’t miss Goldroom and Autograf at Terminal 5 on Friday night.

(Come dance with us at these other fall shows we think are right up your alley.)

 

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Kyle Craft Brings Acclaimed Music to Mercury Lounge Tomorrow

August 10th, 2016

As far as musical descriptions go, you could do a lot worse than AllMusic’s take on Kyle Craft, “a Louisiana-bred singer-songwriter with a robust, full-throated wail and knack for pairing Stones-ian hooks and Dylan-esque wordplay with glam-kissed pop swagger.” Now based in Portland, Ore., Craft (above, doing “Penetcost” for KEXP FM) put out his debut solo album, Dolls of Highland (stream it below), on Sub Pop this past spring to a considerable amount of praise. Pitchfork opined that the LP “melds the voodoo-infused mythology of the South with rambunctious glam rock, and Kyle Craft summons you into its world like a carnival barker wooing customers in a funhouse.” And not to be outdone, Spin added that in his past life, he “was either a glam-rock idol or frontman for a power-metal trio. His sound is swampy ’70s boogie that splits the difference between Dr. John and David Bowie.” Find out for yourself why he’s getting so much praise when Kyle Craft plays Mercury Lounge tomorrow night. NYC’s Mass Gothic open the show.

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The Jayhawks Sound Ageless at The Bowery Ballroom

June 16th, 2016

The Jayhawks – The Bowery Ballroom – June 15, 2016

The Jayhawks - The Bowery Ballroom - June 15, 2016
It’s inspiring that Gary Louris and the Jayhawks can still do this: hit that sweet spot where good-time rock and roll, sweet-and-sour folk and scuffed country are the same music and hold on that spot for the duration of an entire show. You find yourself embracing the voices, but it’s as much the vibe, too—those mesmerizing, Everlys-style harmonies laid on a Flying Burrito Brothers bed, but with the frayed edges of ’90s alt rock present to keep things from getting too comfortable. Louris himself—surrounded by a further-revised version of the band that includes Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg and new guitarist Kraig Johnson—is making age work for him.

Louris’s singing sounds a bit more lived in, but as he and the band peeled off songs last night at The Bowery Ballroom like “Waiting for the Sun,” “Leaving the Monsters Behind” and “Stumbling Through the Dark”—the first three to begin a 25-song evening—it’s clear that he’s become the gritty veteran troubadour he could only nod toward when he was a much younger man. Even the Jayhawks classics, from “Blue,” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass” to set-closer “I’d Run Away,” have a more knowing, perhaps pragmatic tone than they once did, made that much more potent by the fact that the singer, 20 years or more later, now knows these things he thought to be evident, rather than speculated. Give Louris this, as well: That Jayhawks sound stayed remarkably consistent, right up through this year’s guitar-y, gently experimental Paging Mr. Proust, one of the band’s best albums.

That newer material—“Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces,” “Ace,” “Isabel’s Daughter”—nestles comfortably among the old, with fewer emotional triggers for a crowd weaned on classic-era Jayhawks albums like Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, but in time, becoming of a piece with those decades-old tunes. Indeed, throughout this very sold-out show, Louris and Co. seemed to draw on as many Jayhawks flavors as possible to demonstrate the common thread, from “Tailspin,” which was served up roadhouse-Dylan style, almost a fist-pumper, to “Settled Down Like Rain,” which Louris delivered solo, plus “Tampa to Tulsa” and “Angelyne,” each with an assist from opening band Folk Uke. The Jayhawks—and Louris, personally—have been through a lot of changes since those heady days of Hollywood Town Hall. But shows like this one confirmed what we always suspected about the band back then: The Jayhawks’ sound is ageless, and their mission is a sure one, even as time marches on. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.com

Five Questions with … Mail the Horse

February 18th, 2016

The folk- and classic rock–loving group Mail the Horse (above, performing “Flowers, Keys & Gasoline”)—Donny Amidon, Michael Hesslein, Chris May and Brendan Smith—first laid roots in coastal New Hampshire before making the move to Brooklyn. They’ve become known locally as a DIY band not to miss. They open for the Cactus Blossoms tonight at Mercury Lounge, and the guys answered Five Questions for The House List.

As a touring band, what’s the best part of staying local to play Mercury Lounge? And do you ever notice if your music is received differently at home versus on the road?
Mercury Lounge has been good to us, and it’s still one of the best places to see music in the city. They pride themselves in establishing solid artist relations, which is something we appreciate. It’s great to see familiar faces but also nice to not know anyone in the crowd and let go a little more. Bottom line is that we like to play and we like to make people feel as many different emotions as possible during our sets. That’s what we pride ourselves on.

Planet Gates came out about a year ago. Are you guys working on anything new? And do you ever fine-tune music live before recording it?
We’ve been writing and are about to start recording in the spring. We performed about half of the tunes on Planet Gates before we recorded them. Studio is always different than a live performance so there are always adjustments to be made. We look forward to seeing where the next set of sessions take us.


What bands have influenced your music?
We all spent a real decent chunk of our formative years listening to way too much of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan obviously, the Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds and other “cosmic” American bands from the ’60s and early ’70s, but we also dig in deep with the Stones—all eras—and on tour our playlists and our tastes tend to be very, very eclectic. We listen to straight up Journey and then we listen to Pharoah Sanders and then we listen to Ryan Adams, then we listen to Gene Clark demos from the late ’70s on YouTube. But we also all listen to a ton of contemporary stuff. There’s an album coming out this week by this band Murals that we’ve been looking forward to for months.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
It’s OK to have something to lean on because it gives you confidence in your abilities,= and you can make it your thing. But it’s very important to step outside the box and challenge yourself musically—or in life in general. Most of the time when you find yourself leaning on something, it means you’re honing in on something. And then once you get closer to it, maybe you catch it, and then move onto something else. Sometimes you never catch it, or sometimes it morphs into something new. It’s like chasing something that you can’t see but can feel. Also, we wrote a few songs over the years with recurring lines about dead dogs. I think all the songs are great, but maybe it’s something else’s time to die!

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
Some of the best songs ever written are stories that don’t relate to the songwriter. It always helps to feel a certain way, but it’s fun putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Singing/ playing with conviction is the most important aspect or no one is going to believe you either way. Two of us had a fiction professor tell us a quote: “Write about what you know, whether it happened to you or not.” If your goal is expressing emotional truth, the facts can become irrelevant. Bruce Springsteen didn’t drag race all those cars himself, right? But “Racing in the Street” sure rings true. Big time.—R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

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Catch Alt-Folkie Andrew St. James Tonight at Mercury Lounge

January 20th, 2016

Inspired by Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter—and at just 18—alt-folkie Andrew St. James released his debut full-length, Doldrums (stream it below), in 2013. American Songwriter noted it for the San Francisco singer’s “great lyrics.” St. James (above, doing “Nightmares Pt. 17” for Balcony TV) put out a follow-up, The Shakes (stream it below), a year later. And according to Amazon Music, despite still a teenager “his music sounds like the work of a time-worn troubadour…. Fans of Ryan Adams and the Flaming Lips alike will find a kindred spirit in James.” Now winding down an East Coast swing, St. James plays Mercury Lounge tomorrow night.