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2013: The Year In Music

December 27, 2013 1 comment

Frequent readers of this blog (he says as though there is such a thing) will remember that 2012’s musical review found a top-heavy list that had a couple great albums and a lot of filler. It was tough, frankly, to put together even a top ten that was worthy of being called a “top ten” of anything. In looking back at last year’s list, there are probably only a half-dozen that I’ve listened to more than a half-dozen times this year.

2013, however, has been a far, far different story. If you read my write-up over at Dying Scene, you’re no doubt aware that I took the easy way out, compiling a top-ten list that was 15 albums long. The top six were almost interchangeable, and have all spent time as my true “favorite” at different points during the year. The next nine or ten are almost interchangeable at times as well. Long story short, 2013 made up for 2012 in a big, big way.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

As always, I don’t include EPs, live albums or 7-inches in my countdown. However, there were a few that are noteworthy and thus will get props here.

First up is the new 7-inch from Nashville’s Blacklist Royals. The two tracks, “Righteous Child” and “She’s The One,” are slated to appear on the band’s forthcoming full-length, Die Young With Me. They’re a heck of a taste of what’s to come…just hope DYWM finally sees the light of day in ’14. Here’s the title track from the 7-inch:

Also released this year were a couple EPs from Boston’s Street Dogs. The fellas started 2013 on hiatus, but that was short-lived. By spring, they had resurfaced with a new lineup and a couple releases on new label home Pirates Press Records. The new lineup doesn’t appear in its entirety on the albums, but they are at least the first new material we’ve had from Street Dogs since their self-titled 2010 album. Here’s the new track “Crooked Drunken Sons.”

In related news, 2013 also saw the debut 7-inch from FM359, a project that features the Street Dogs’ Mike McColgan and Johnny Rioux teaming up with Continental’s Rick Barton (also, not coincidentally, a founding member of Dropkick Murphys alongside McColgan). It’s very much a left turn compared to what you might expect coming from two founding Dropkicks (remember when they were a punk band!?). It’s a traditional Americana-style album; gospel without the Gospel. Here’s “A Little Sign”

MOVING ON TO THE LIST

21. Drag The River – s/t

Drag The River is the long-running on-again/off-again project featuring Jon Snodgrass and ALL’s Chad Price. The Fort Collins-based alt-country team put out their first album in five years this year. It’s good. Here’s “Song For My Roommates.”

20. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve

I think I would have had this album up higher if I hadn’t seen a solo performance by frontman Toh Kay earlier this year. But I did see a solo performance by Toh Kay earlier this year, and it was freaking awesome, so that kinda spoiled the much-maligned final album from Streetlight Manifesto before it actually came out. Anyway, here’s the title track:

19. Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves

For the uninitiated, Amanda Shires is the violin-playing better-half of alt-country artist extraordinaire Jason Isbell (whom you’ll read more about later). She put out her own solo album this year, and it’s not what you’d perhaps expect coming from the violin playing better-half of Jason Isbell. Dark, sweeping, bluesy and sorta punky at times. Here’s “Devastate,” but make sure you look up the track “Box Cutters” as well:

18. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I’m not, nor have I ever been, clinically depressed. I feel like if I were, I wouldn’t be able to make it through a Frightened Rabbit album in one piece. In a list that is chock full of world class songwriters this year, Scott Hutchison is, at times, the best of the bunch. Here’s “The Woodpile,” which may be my favorite song of the year. Seriously. If you listen to no other song on my list, LISTEN TO THIS ONE!

17. The Bronx – IV

I belong to the minority that actually prefer’s The Bronx’s mariachi alter ego side project to the original incarnation. I’m not that hardcore. Still, IV is a really good album, certainly my favorite the four studio album’s they’ve out out to date. A little more mainstream sounding, but that’s why I like it. I know, I know… Anyway, here’s “The Unholy Hand”:

16. Off With Their Heads – Home

Here’s where we start to get into the territory of albums that have been my “favorite album” of the year at times. OWTH are the real deal. Frontman Ryan Young has a no-bullshit way of conveying, well, conveying what a suicide note sounds like. At times, you genuinely worry for him. See for yourself; here’s “Always Alone”:

15. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

I can understand those that say that Nine Inch Nails’ music is an acquired taste. I’ve always had a healthy respect for Trent Reznor as an artist, but it wasn’t until later years that I actually started to connect with his music. His return to the NIN game in 2013 is equal parts “pick up where you left off” and “time to change the game again.” Here’s “Copy of A” (featuring Pino Palladino on bass):

14. Get Dead – Bad News

Fat Wreck’s site bills Get Dead as “elements of Swingin’ Utters, The Pogues and Hot Water Music.” If you’re familiar with all of those bands, you realize that none of them are really even close to each other sonically. And yet, Fat Wreck’s description is right. Here’s “Kerouac’s Teeth”:

13. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners

I only got into Arliss Nancy very late in the year, which is a shame, because the Fort Collins-based country punks are really, really good. Folk-punk has been the obvious trend lately, but these guys don’t seem to be riding the genre’s coat tails. Here’s “Benjamin”:

12. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True

I’m just gonna come out and say a couple things here. After Skiba’s Sekrets side project, particularly after video of the disastrous show in Chicago surfaced, I was genuinely concerned about the future of the Trio. Then I heard “I Wanna Be A Warhol” the first time through, and was even more concerned. I’ve since become enamored with it, and I think the entire album is some of their best, most mature work to date. Andriano’s tracks shine in particular. It feels weird to have “My Shame Is True” listed so low, given that this would probably be a top 5 album most other years. Speaks to the strength of 2013 more than anything. Anyway, here’s “I, Pessimist”:

11. Broadcaster – A Million Hours

This album has been in my “to be reviewed” folder for way too long (stupid grad school work). I really do owe it to this Long Island three-piece to finish it up. Takes me instantly back to everything that was right about mid-90s power-pop music (somewhere between American Hi-Fi and Weezer, but with better lyrics). Sadly, they’re a little too “indie” to have anything on YouTube. Look ’em up on Spotify, however.

10. Joshua Black Wilkins – Fair Weather

If you were lucky enough to make it out to Face To Face’s US tour this past summer (with Teenage Bottlerocket and Blacklist Royals), and smart enough to show up early, then you were lucky enough to catch Joshua Black Wilkins’ one-man-show. If you weren’t so lucky, you don’t know what you’re missing. It probably stands to reason to point out that yours truly takes a liking to boozy, bluesy, singer-songwriter music, and J Black Dubs is amongst the dirtiest Tennessee bluesmen going. Not bad for a photographer by trade. Here’s “I Tremble”:

9. Bad Religion – True North

It’s probably a fair criticism to say that the last few Bad Religion albums are effectively interchangeable. As much as I love everything from the Brooks Wackerman era, True North is the best of the bunch. And their live show is still as vital, and inspired, as ever. Here’s their ode to Mitt Romney, “Robin Hood In Reverse,” followed by the self-explanatory “Fuck You.”

8. Swingin Utters – Poorly Formed

Many people are partial to the Utter$’ first “comeback” album, 2011′s Here, Under Protest. Most people are wrong. Much like my commentary for Three Chords And A Half Truth above, I really think that Poorly Formed is a great example of a band reuniting, hitting their stride, and shaking off any residual dust. That said, I didn’t give it much of a chance earlier in the year. It has since become effectively stuck in my CD changer. Here’s “Greener Grass.”

7. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Pound for pound, Jason Isbell might be the single best lyricist on the list this year, though that is certainly saying something. Isbell is somewhat recently sober and married to the aforementioned Shires (who also plays violin for his band, the 400 Unit). Tracks like “Super 8,” “Cover Me Up,” “Stockholm” and “Flying Over Water” are damn-near perfect. Here they are, in that order:

6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Another example of the strength of the 2013 music scene: Frank Turner’s last album, England Keep My Bones, was my favorite album the year it came out. The more honest, introspective Tape Deck Heart is better, and yet it’s #6. Anyway, here’s “Recovery,” followed by “Tattoos,” which appeared on the deluxe version.

5. Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One – Illuminator

I was sad when Darkbuster met its demise a half-dozen-or-so years ago, and more sad that frontman Lashley had, effectively, a mental breakdown while on tour in Europe toward the end. Illuminator is the sounds of Lashley hitting the lowest of low points in a few areas of his life and coming out the other side. Can’t say enough good things about the album. Here’s “US Mail.”

4. Face To Face – Three Chords and a Half Truth

Here’s what I wrote for Dying Scene: “While 2011′s Laugh Now, Laugh Later marked the band’s triumphant return to the punk rock game, Three Chords And A Half Truth found Face To Face abandoning much of what you’d call their ‘traditional sound’ yet again. Perhaps it was foolish of us to think that they have a ‘traditional sound’ after all. Not as big a left-hand turn as Ignorance Is Bliss was, but certainly not without its “out of left field” moments. Also, best album cover of the year. Nice work, Nat.” Here’s the video for “Right As Rain,” directed by the above-mentioned Joshua Black Wilkins, followed by the leftest-of-left turns, “First Step, Misstep.”

3. Various Artists – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute

I could spend twelve-hundred words expounding on the touching, virtuous moments of this album. Oh wait…I did. Here’s Tim McIlrath covering “For Fiona,” with backing vocals from Jon Snodgrass.

2. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

If you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly well aware of my long-time affinity for all things Pearl Jam. They are the first band that was really “my” band. I’ve emoted with and related to Eddie Vedder’s every word for better than twenty years. I understand and accept that The Clash are “the only band that really mattered.” Pearl Jam are my Clash, and always have been. So it pained me to no end that Eddie phoned in the last album, 2009’s Backspacer (with more than a little help from prodoucher Brendan O’Brien). For the first time, I was legitimately nervous about a PJ album, fearing that the “all tings Pearl Jam” chapter of my life’s book would close after almost a quarter-century. I was worried over nothing. Lightning Bolt (or at least the first eight tracks on Lightning Bolt) is a total triumph. A return to the piss-and-vinegar of the mid-1990s, coupled with some of the more heartfelt, relatable ballads the band has ever written. Here’s two examples of the former (“Father’s Son” and “Mind Your Manners”) and one of the latter (“Sirens”).

1. Dave Hause – Devour

In all honesty, this album probably sealed up the #1 spot on my 2013 list a month or so before it had even been recorded. It was upon first hearing “Autism Vaccine Blues” live during Dave’s set opening for Flogging Molly on their Green 17 tour, and had an immediate, jaw-dropping sort of impact. Though the album version is a little less jaw-dropping than just Dave and a guitar, Devour contains enough cathartic moments to put it a full head above anything else on the list. Here’s my full review of the album from earlier this year. Here’s the stripped-down version of “Autism Vaccine Blues,” followed by a quintessential downer (“Before”) and a quintessential upper (“The Shine”).

2011: The Year in Music

January 1, 2012 2 comments

2011 rocked.

That’s really the best that I could do in coming up with an intro because, in all seriousness, 2011 rocked. Pearl Jam’s Ten turned twenty years old (as did Nirvana’s Nevermind). The Ramones turned 35. The Foo Fighters brought rock back to whatever exists of rock radio nowadays. Oh, and Dying Scene. As you’re probably aware by now, I started writing for Dying Scene, a punk music website, about a year ago, and that has reignited my passion for uptempo beats and power chords like it was 1994 all over again.

But it wasn’t just all about punk music. As you’ll see in a minute, some of my favorite releases of the year were from across the rock and hip-hop genres, including one from a two-piece that plays Mexican-inspired folk music and features a donkey jaw bone as a percussion instrument. That, of course, is the David Wax Museum. I was lucky enough to catch them open for the Josh Ritter Trio (with the Mrs.) at a hole-in-the-wall in Milford, CT, back in May.

In fact, I consider myself lucky to have seen all of the live shows that I did this year. Being a suburban professional (and a dad) and a homebody by nature, it’s always nice to venture out to catch live music. And when you only catch four or five live shows a year, it’s nice when each one of them is a great, truly inspiring performance; the reason live music far exceeds its studio-recorded counterpart. My live music year started in February with Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) opening for Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band at a special “Valentine’s Day Brawl” in Boston. It was followed by Face to Face and Strung Out in Boston, and again in Philly, in May. June brought the aforementioned Josh Ritter Trio/David Wax Museum show. Finally, December closed out the year with Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids/The New Amsterdams) and Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem/The Horrible Crowes) playing a special acoustic show at Northeastern University.

But you aren’t here to read me go on-and-on about how luck I was this year; you’re here for the music (right?).  Without further pomp-and-circumstance, here’s my favorites of 2011 (in painstaking order). As usual, no live albums, reissues, compilations, etc. Here we go…the top 23 releases of 2011, as chosen by me. Truthfully, any of the top seven albums on the list could have been #1, or at least #1B. Suffice it to say, 2011 rocked (especially if you’re a Shiflett).

22. David Wax Museum – Everything Is Saved. The Boston-based duo features David Wax on the jarana and Suz Slezak on the donkey jawbone playing infectious, Mexican-inspired folk tunes.

21. Tom Waits – Bad As Me. This album has gotten a lot of love in a lot of places. To me, it’s too similar to Real Gone and most of Orphans. But still…rehashed Tom Waits is better than original most-everything-else.

20. City and Colour – Little Hell. Former Alexisonfire frontman steps out for his most sparse, haunting solo album yet.

19. The Roots – Undun. The only hip-hop band that matters released their third album in eighteen months, this one  a concept album about growing up in bleak, rough-and-tumble Philadelphia. The title character was named after a Sufjan Stevens song. This is why The Roots are The Clash of the hip hop world.

18. Thrice – Major/Minor. Sadly, this is probably the last we’ll see of Thrice, as the post-hardcore giants have gone on indefinite hiatus. At least they dropped this gem on us before leaving (though there is one song that sounds too much like a Creed track).

 

17. Thursday – No Devolucion. Sadly, this is probably the last we’ll see of Thursday, as the post-hardcore giants have gone on indefinite hiatus. At least they dropped this gem on us before leaving. (Yes…this was a good year for post-hardcore “legends”, but a bad year for their longevity).

 

16. Blink 182 – Neighborhoods. I didn’t want to include this album. I really didn’t. But go ahead, pull my street cred card. It’s actually a (mostly) solid album. But I still want to punch Tom DeLonge.

15. Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs. At first I thought this was just a way to cash in on those of us who buy anything Pearl Jam related (hey, Ed’s got a family to feed now). But the more you listen to this album that was in the works for almost a decade, the better it gets.

14. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Magic Of Youth. Most of them don’t even live in Boston anymore (Dicky lives in LA, for God’s sake). And, frankly, I couldn’t even tell you who is in the band anymore. But they still know how to make a killer album, easily their best since I was in college.

13. Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Here’s my review from earlier in the year.

 

 

 

12. Vacation Bible School – Ruined The Scene. Self-depricating, middle-finger-raising skate punk that reminds me of my youth. Opening track is called “Douchebag.” ‘Nuff said.

 

 

11. Radiohead – King Of Limbs. Loop-heavy stroke of shoegazey genius. Watch the video.

 

10. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones. There’s been a trend lately in which punk rock/hardcore frontmen branch out with more acoustic, folk-driven side projects. The Englishman Turner is the best of the bunch with his beer-soaked pub sing-along anthems.

 

9. Banquets – Top Button, Bottom Shelf. Great riffs, great melodies and great harmonies make for a great post-punk album. Banquets hit on all of them.

8. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man. The razor sharp wit and self-deferential sense of humor is always enjoyable, but it’s the occasional glimpses of  heart-attack seriousness and “it’s funny because it’s true” moments (take “Sad Songs (Intermission)” or the closing line in “Fucc The Devil” for example) that give Knife Man its depth and importance.

 

7. No Motiv – Winterlong. Though it’s only an EP, the band’s first release since 2004’s semi-breakthrough, appropriately named Daylight Breaking album serves as (hopefully) a forceful return to the game, and proof that there is still room in the game for the old guard of the emo game.

 

6. Mastodon – The Hunter. The best metal band on the planet make their broadest, most accessible sounding album yet, and it’s an absolute monster. It’s on Spotify, so you have no excuse to not listen to it.

5. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie. The smoky blues-bar Waits-ian vocal stylings and solo Springsteen inspired sound give The Horrible Crowes the feel of more than just a throwaway, between-Gaslight filler album for Brian Fallon and longtime pal Ian Perkins.

 

4. The Black Keys – El Camino. The Akron duo teamed up with Danger Mouse for the whole album this time. The result is their most rocking, best sounding, most focused album today, filled with dirty, sludgy blues riffs.

3. Samiam – Trips. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that it touches on a broad spectrum of sounds, Samiam’s first album in five years (and only their second in over a decade) is the most polished, best sounding , most accessible album of their long career. Let’s just hope they don’t go away for so goddamn long this time…

 

2. The Reveling – Tributaries. The Reveling provided me the biggest “holy crap these guys are good” moment from the beginning seconds of the album’s opening track, “Revival.” That feeling hasn’t let up one bit (and has, in fact, only gotten stronger) upon what is probably a couple hundred successive listens over the year. The Reveling are THAT GOOD, and it really is a shame that more people don’t know of them.

And now for the moment where I feel like Mr. and/or Mrs. Shiflett making a musical “Sophie’s Choice” between releases from two of my three sons…Chris with the Foo Fighters and Scott with Face To Face. As could be expected, I took the easy way out.

1A. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light. I could spend probably two thousand words explaining how amazing this album is and still not do it proper justice. Dave Grohl has written a career’s worth of hook-driven, thoughtfully-worded anthems. Wasting Light is the best album, start-to-finish, that he has ever played on, and solidifies the band’s status as one of the best American rock bands of the last several decades.

1. Face To Face – Laugh Now, Laugh Later. A lot has changed in the nine years since f2f’s last album was released. They’ve got a new drummer, they reunited with guitarist Chad Yaro, they’ve got a new label and new production partners. But the sound of Laugh Now, Laugh Later is every bit as strong and vital as it has been at any point in their twenty-plus year career.

Face to Face in Philly – 5/21/11

May 23, 2011 1 comment

The road to Face to Face show #13 took a much different route than expected. As I said in my last post, show #13 was set for Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut, on May 19th. Sadly, Face to Face doesn’t draw particularly well in Connecticut (I can’t think of them playing a non-Warped Tour show in CT since probably 1995/6), as evidenced by the small crowd that was present for their mid-afternoon Warped Tour slot last summer. So, the day before the New Haven gig brought with it word that there would, in fact, not be a New Haven gig.

As such, it seemed there would be no show #13, at least on this tour. The band played May 20th in Sayreville, NJ, which is a couple of hours from my in-laws house in CT. Certainly doable, but did I really want to go to New Jersey? May 21st was set for the Trocadero in Philadelphia, and the tour would continue to head south thereafter. While Philly has always been one of my favorite cities, this certainly didn’t seem like a realistic option. That is, until Natalia said “I’d go to Philly.” That was all it took; Philly it was.

Philadelphia is not a bad ride at all from southern Connecticut, as it turns out. I say “not a bad ride” because it does involve driving through New York and New Jersey, neither of which are overly appealing options even in the best of all possible worlds. A necessary evil, however.

On to the show…

The Trocadero in Philadelphia, for those that have never been there, is a pretty awesome venue. Though it has obviously been updated since its opening as theater in the 1870s, “the Troc” still contains a lot of classic, original charm.  Also, a lot of the original lack of bathroom sanitation, but I digress. The Troc holds about 1,200 people, and I’d guess there were between 900 and 1000 in the house for this gig (by the time Strung Out took the stage, anyway). Not sold out, but that wasn’t a bad thing as it gave the crowd a chance to really get “in” to the show (pretty solid ongoing circle pit for both Strung Out and Face to Face).

Before I get to Face to Face, allow me to expound a little on opening act The Darlings (I’m going to skip Cerebral Ballzy, because they are, quite frankly, not good). I at least saw most of their performance this time (missed all of Boston), and frankly I think they are awesome: very solid, younger band. It’s refreshing to see a younger band that isn’t doing the screamo/skinny jeans/Day Glo t-shirt/Jennifer Aniston haircut thing. Much props to The Darlings. Expect bigger things from them in the years to come.

The Darlings, from much farther away  than I should have been. If you are reading this and are planning on heading to a show on this tour, make sure you get there early: these guys deserve your support.

Strung Out came next and kicked the crowd’s collective ass for a solid 40 minutes. A large portion of the crowd was much more familiar with Strung Out’s body of work than I am (though I’m getting better), so there was a pretty solid pit from start-to-finish. As always, Strung Out were musically tight, and their high energy set does a great job of getting the crowd whipped into a frenzy.

The crowd at the Troc, actively participating in Strung Out’s performance

Strung Out’s Jake Kiley

Speaking of the crowd: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how stellar the crowd was. Not only was this the thirteenth time I’ve seen Face to Face, but those shows took place in thirteen different venues across four states. I’m not just being clouded by recent memory when I say that Philly’s crowd may well have been the best of the bunch. They seemed into the entire show from start to finish; aggressive without being overly rowdy. Admittedly, my vantage point during Face to Face’s set was fairly poor in order to get a true impression of the crowd, so I’m basing this portion of the review off of A)their performance during Strung Out’s set and B)Trever’s reaction. Trever seemed pretty genuinely impressed by this. If you’ve been to multiple Face to Face shows, especially on the same tour, you know that Trever can engage in a certain amount of canned stage banter, typical of most frontmen. I couldn’t help but get the impression on this night, however, that Trever was genuinely ‘feeling it’ tonight.

I’m not going to bother with a setlist this time, in part because the physical “setlist” was exactly the same for this show as it was for Boston. It is also wrong from song #1.

As you can see, “You Lied” is listed as the first song, and “Should Anything Go Wrong” is listed as the thirteenth. “Should Anything Go Wrong” was actually the band’s first song, and from there it just gets more jumbled. In glancing at the setlist pictured above, memory tells me that all of those songs were played, just not in that order. I didn’t notice any real banter between the guys on the stage that they were switching things up, so I’m not honestly sure how that all works. Why bother using a generic setlist if you aren’t actually going to come close to going by it?

Anyway, we had four songs from Laugh Now…Laugh Later at this gig, as opposed to three this time (“Bombs Away” was actually played, much to my delight as I find it one of the best songs on the album). Only one song from How To Ruin Everything, and none from Reactionary or Ignorance Is Bliss. I meant to ask why Reactionary is being largely ignored on this marathon of a tour, but it slipped my mind at the time. Most Face to Face “fans” tend to swear that only the band’s first three albums are worth listening to, so this setlist probably finds the band playing to that expectation. Not a bad decision from the perspective of luring people back to the band after a prolonged absence, I suppose, as long as it means the list gets broadened next time out.

Danny and Scott were in solid-as-ever form. Dennis’ sound was a little clearer than in Boston, which is good because that guy can really play. Aside from being a very likeable guy, he’s a hell of a guitar player. Trever was Trever…intense at some times, silly and playful at others. Classic Face to Face performance from soup to nuts.

Enough blabbing…here are some more pictures. Please to enjoy.

The one and only Scott Shiflett. Trever has made a habit of pointing out Scott’s awesomeness at shows on this tour, allowing Scott a minute to get into a bass solo. On this night, Trever also pointed out how great a guitar player Scott is, prompting Dennis to take off his own guitar and sling it over Scott. Scott proceeded to shred an impromptu lightning-fast metal-icious guitar solo. Pretty awesome…just wish I photographed it!

There are worse places to watch a punk rock show from, I’ve gotta say

Danny Thompson on drums. I really like the way the coloring worked out on this one. Just wish I could remember what setting I had the camera on!

Totally different coloring, but I still think it’s a cool picture

The closest I came to getting the four fellas in the same shot

Trever and Scott paying Danny a visit. That’s Corey Miller on the right.

Dennis, Trever and Scott and his maroon Docs

Messing around with long shutter speeds. I like the results.

Trever and Scott

The view from Danny’s corner of the world

Seriously…not a bad spot to watch a show from

I really like this picture. Wish it was a little crisper, but still…

Trever keeping an eye on Scott

Face to Face w/Strung Out – Boston, MA

May 15, 2011 1 comment

For the first time in just about two years, Face to Face played within Boston proper last night (May 14th). The band are celebrating their twentieth year in business, and touring in support of their seventh studio album, Laugh Now…Laugh Later, which is due to be released this coming week (May 17th). Joining them for the duration of the two-plus month-long tour are fellow SoCal heavyweights Strung Out, themselves rounding the corner on 20 years (the band was formed in 1992).

As much as it pains me to say, I’m much less familiar with Strung Out’s catalog than I should be; this is certain to change in the near future. The band play a fast-paced, metal-infused brand of SoCal punk rock. I’m not sure how I never got around to seeing Strung Out before. Nevertheless, they put on a very enjoyable, high octane 40-ish minute set on this particular night. Their 7:50pm time slot was also notably earlier than anticipated; Brooklyn band Cerebral Ballzy (yes, that is their real name) were due to occupy one of the opening slots, but played in the UK the day before and didn’t make it back to the States in time for this gig.  Redondo Beach punk band The Darlings occupied the 7:00pm time slot, though admittedly, I missed their performance.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from the Strung Out set…

Frontman Jason Cruz

Jake Kiley and Jason Cruz
Jake Kiley and Chris Aiken

Aiken and Cruz

On to the headliners. May 14th, 2011, would mark my twelfth f2f gig. Paradise is a fairly legendary rock club in Boston, so I was pretty excited to get the opportunity to see my favorite band there for the first time. The boys took the stage promptly at 9:10pm. Thanks to our spot up front between Trever Keith and Scott Shiflett, we had a pretty good view of the setlist ahead of time. Here’s how it read:

You Lied

You’ve Done Nothing

Struggle

Walk The Walk

It’s All About You

Ordinary

I Won’t Lie Down

Blind

Bill Of Goods

Pastel

All For Nothing

A-OK

Should Anything Go Wrong

Velocity

I Want

Complicated

Big Choice

Bombs Away

Resignation

Disconnected

——————–

I’m Trying

It’s Not Over

As you might imagine from looking at it, that right there is a pretty solid setlist. The band’s first three albums were obviously very well represented (five songs from Don’t Turn Away, six songs each from Big Choice and the self-titled album), while Ignorance Is Bliss (to be expected) and Reactionary (unexpected) were unrepresented, and 2002’s How To Ruin Everything had only one song featured. The remainder were from the forthcoming Laugh Now…Laugh Later. “Should Anything Go Wrong” and “It’s All About You” were fairly well-received and several people seemed to know the words already.  “All for Nothing” occupied the space that “Bombs Away” was slotted for, the latter song not actually being played, and was met with nodding approval (no ‘thumbs-down, middle-finger-up’ this time around), a good sign for a song that isn’t full-throttle punk rock song.

The mostly-capacity crowd was pretty chipper for most of the set, and seemed to get rowdier from about the halfway mark on. Pretty decent pit ebbed and flowed for the majority of the set, and the number of crowd surfers was unexpectedly high. Frontman and band founder Trever Keith acknowledged that his voice was a little off (“phlegmy” was the precise word he used) and it was noticeable in some places, but by and large he sounded great for an “old guy.” About a third of the way through the set, Keith commented on how Face to Face crowds have grown decidedly older over the years, but pointed out that they were, in fact, old men themselves (prompting bass player extraordinaire to pretend to shuffle over to his spot aided by a walker). Keith also repeatedly commented on how the Red Sox were beating the Yankees, which always pleases him due to his noted hatred of the Bronx Bombers. That met with applause from the crowd, and didn’t come off as typical front-man pandering.

Despite the band’s age, they played with their trademark high energy and precision. New drummer (since the 2008 reunion) Danny Thompson served as the rock steady gas pedal behind the kit, keeping things plowing straight ahead. While longtime guitar player Chad Yaro was back home tending to “real job” duties, touring guitar player Dennis Hill continues to serve as a formidable replacement. Sadly, the sound was not mixed all too well, so his guitar was almost inaudible from our spot. Keith and Shiflett continued to do what they have been doing best for sixteen years (Shiflett took over for Matt Riddle in 1995): Keith’s power chord rhythmic assault on guitar continues to interplay with the melodically nimble-fingered Shiflett’s swirling bass lines.

But enough of my words. Here are some pictures for your enjoyment…

“You’ve got brains in your head…feet in your shoes…you can steer yourself…any way you choose…”

Scott doing the “duck face,” probably unintentionally…though, knowing Scott…

Scott either showing that playing bass is hard work, or trying to keep his dinner down

Danny, Trever and Dennis

Trever Keith

Scott, Trever and Danny. The banner behind them was designed by the one-and-only Corey Miller

I’m pretty sure Scott posed for this one…

I love this picture. Who says “old guys” can’t rock?!?

The man does have a thing for the Les Paul Studio, doesn’t he?

Danny, Trever and Dennis, seemingly enjoying themselves

Just sorta like the coloring on this one

“Whaaaaa?!?”

A considerate crowd member shares a beer with mini Dennis

I have a tough time photographing drummers, I’m not gonna lie

More Dennis

In closing, I would say that my twelfth Face to Face show left me looking forward to another twelve, but I’m not that naive. Still, a boy can dream, can’t he? At least there’ll be New Haven on Thursday!

Songs I wish I had written – Volume One

March 27, 2010 Leave a comment


As my ability to write and play music has progressed over the years, I’ve found myself listening to music in new and different ways…trying to absorb the various different textures involved, put myself in the songwriter’s shoes, wrap my head around the connection and the interplay between the lyrics and the music. They aren’t necessarily my favorite songs (though most of them are on the very, very short list), but they are songs that I find incredibly special. Here’s the first one…

Face To Face – Burden
(Trever Keith, Scott Shiflett)

You could say
I might find it difficult to show it on the outside
From far away
I should seem as ordinary as would seem the truth
But all we find
Dishonesty and lies
It’s hard to recognize the truth
And why can’t I discover what the reason is that I
Know there’s something left that I should prove

I didn’t mean to burden you
Is there something more to this?
I didn’t mean to burden you
Is there something more to this?
Was it something I’ve already missed?

Peel away
The fear that I’m not good enough
To give back what I’ve taken
It’s hard to say
The disappointment tends to make the optimism fade
I’m still behind and running out of time
It’s nothing but a trite excuse
And why can’t I discover what the reason is
That I know there’s something left that I should prove

I didn’t mean to burden you…

It’s probably no great secret that I enjoy Face to Face more than most (any?) other bands. Traditionally thought of (correctly) as a SoCal punk rock band, Ignorance Is Bliss marked a departure from that sound that, sadly, prompted a lot of their “fans” to jump ship. It is a vast understatement to point out that they really missed out. A stellar album from start to finish, IIB’s sound is at its peak on “Burden.”

The song starts out with Trever’s not-heavily-distorted Les Paul playing a stripped down run through of the 9 second main chord progression that will be duplicated for the remainder of the song. A quick machine-gun snare fill by Pete Parada cues the rest of the band to join in lockstep. Those first notes still hit me the way that they did when I first heard the song sometime in 1999. The noted addition to the normal sound on this song is strings (strings?!?), expertly arranged by the renowned Steve Croes.

Around the 30 second mark, Trever’s vocals kick in. I’ve long found his to be arguably (or not) the best voice in music over the last several decades. The honesty and sincerity in his voice is never better than on this song. You get the sense that Trever really believes what he sings…no Green Day-esque vapidity on this song (apparently vapidity is an actual word…I was hoping I had just coined it!). The line “I didn’t mean to burden you” has always struck me in a couple of ways…one that is straight-forward (genuine concern over having burdened another person), one that is less so (a hint of passive-aggressive sarcasm, perhaps, on Trever’s part). More than a decade later, I still oscillate between which opinion is correct.

The beginning of the second verse continues to hit me in the stomach with every listen (which has got to be over the 2,000 mark at this point). “Peel away the fear that I’m not good enough to give back what I’ve taken… It’s hard to say – disappointment tends to make the optimism fade.” I really don’t think a line in any song has so perfectly painted a verbal picture for the melancholy and self-doubt than can creep into the mind of the middle-class, suburban white male with an unhealthy amount of Catholic guilt (really..that’s what I absorbed out of all those years of Sunday school???).

The chord progression, the guitar sound, the air-tight rhythm section of Pete Parada and Scott Shiflett, the string section…all serve as a perfect stage for Trever’s vocals in all their contemplation. Tough to categorize the sound…not punk rock, not traditional alternative, not straight-forward rock…maybe “post-punk” is the best title. Maybe it doesn’t need a title at all. It is moving, but written in a way that is simplistic enough that you really don’t need multiple listens to absorb it all…it just plain smacks you in the face from the first time you press “play.” Do yourself a favor and click the link below and press “play” for yourself. Feel free to comment.

http://www.rhapsody.com/face-to-face/ignorance-is-bliss–2006