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wonders never cease Wednesday, November 4, 2009

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4th, 2009 play list of the week: gigs galore

[caption id="attachment_1833" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="click to listen"]click to listen[/caption]So. We just received this amazing book of gig posters, chock-full of ready-to-hang posters and interviews with the top visual artists of the music scene. This list is inspired by the specific gigs illustrated therein—each song was included in the setlist for its particular show. Out of over 100 posters, we had to whittle the list down to these somewhat disparate few, so pick up a copy of the book for the full experience.

1. “Bukowski” – Modest Mouse (The Grove, Anaheim, CA, 2.14.05)
Arguably documenting the narrator’s descent into Bukowski-esque apathy, “Bukowski” is a decidedly un-Valentine’s Day song: “Well, all that icing and all that cake/I can’t make it to your wedding but I’m sure I’ll be at your wake.” Its rhythm is insistent, its lyrics are dark, and its melody is creepy, but you’re not really attending a Valentine’s Day Modest Mouse concert for the romance, are you?

2. “Casimir Pulaski Day” – Sufjan Stevens (The Southgate, Covington, KY, 9.14.05)
This tune, named after the Polish American Revolutionary War hero, is one piece of an Illinois-themed album, Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, Illinois being the second state tackled in Stevens’ lofty fifty-states, fifty-albums goal. Chicagoans celebrate the man (and the vacation day) on Casimir Pulaski Day, but the song is actually a heart-breaking meditation on young love and death (disguised by the dulcet sounds of Stevens and his gentle band). We wonder what he has in store for Kentucky’s album…

3. “Fight the Power” – Public Enemy (The Madison Theatre, Covington, KY, 3.7.07)
Staying in Covington, but changing gears (just a tiny bit). Years before Flavor Flav was a vH1 reality show star, he of the golden teeth and clock necklaces was part of a little group named Public Enemy, an outfit that channeled the frustrations of the African American community into politically- and emotionally-potent hip-hop records. “Fight the Power” is hailed as one of the most influential songs of all time, and Chuck D’s intelligent lyrics are on full display: “Our freedom of speech is freedom or death/We got to fight the powers that be.” Seventeen years after their genesis, Public Enemy knocked out this song to a sold out crowd at the Madison, proving that PE is still a force to be reckoned with.

4. “Step into My Office, Baby” – Belle and Sebastian (Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA, 3.4.06)
After the release of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Belle and Sebastian earned their place in the pantheon of Scottish-musician history. Unfortunately, they stopped touring in 2006, mere months after their lauded Philadelphia appearance. Too bad we can’t travel back a few years to see a live rendition of “Step into My Office, Baby”—its driving rhythm and cheeky lyrics (“We need to talk/Step into my office, baby/I want to give you the job/A chance of overtime/Say, my place at nine?”) would have surely brought us to our feet.

5. “Crane Wife 1 & 2” + “Crane Wife 3” – The Decemberists (Knust, Hamburg, Germany, 2.13.07)
Colin Meloy and his melancholy band of figurative brothers and a sister took a transatlantic journey in 2007, making several stops in Germany. At the Knust in Hamburg, the audience heard this trilogy, based on an ancient Japanese tale: a poor man finds an injured crane and nurses it back to health. After it flies away, a young woman appears on his doorstep. He falls in love and marries her. To make money, the girl offers to weave beautiful kimonos to sell at market, with the caveat that her husband must never enter the weaving room while she works. She does create amazing pieces, and her husband grows increasingly demanding of her talents. Ultimately, he is too curious and greedy and barges in on his wife, only to find a crane plucking out its own feathers to weave into fabric. Later, the girl exits the room with what will be her final and most magnificent kimono, for after presenting it to her husband, she turns into a crane and flies away, betrayed. But, um, back to the matter at hand: Meloy gives these pieces his typical haunting treatment, contributing to an aching concept album (The Crane Wife, obviously).

6. “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” – Wilco (9:30 Club, Washington, DC, 6.9.04)
From Wilco’s stand-out album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” is a little bit sad, a little bit wistful, and a little bit vindictive. Jeff Tweedy and company performed this ditty to a sold out audience here in Washington, DC, where they were called back for 3 (3!) encores. “What was I thinking when I let you back in?/I am trying to break your heart.” At least this show wasn’t on Valentine’s Day.

7. “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West (The Gorge, Sasquatch Music Festival, George, WA, 5.28.05)
Kanye West is not known for his humility or his conformity, and his behavior at Sasquatch in 2005 was no exception. Coming a little over a year after the release of his debut album, College Dropout, this appearance was marked by a three-song performance, followed by West singing along to samples of classic R&B tracks. Was he trying to show the audience his allegiance to his influences? Was he trying to fill the set? We’ll never know. Kanye has moved on to produce more inspired records and audacious behavior, but “Jesus Walks,” with its gospel and Curtis Mayfield samples, remains one of his most popular songs. Too bad the gospel choir wasn’t a part of the curious performance at the Gorge.

8. “Be Easy” – Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings (Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago, IL, 8.1-3.08)
Depending on which day you went to Lollapalooza last year, you were treated to the likes of the Raconteurs, Blues Traveler, Grizzly Bear, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead (plus about 80-gazillion more acts). But not much compares to the energy and joy of a Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings performance. Measuring 5 feet tall (with heels), Jones dances around the stage with the energy of a 25 year old—much younger than her 54 years, huh? This song is the definition of “groovy” and an audience-participation favorite. Who was the lucky lad called up on stage to assist Ms. Jones for this show, we wonder?

9. “Here Comes Your Man” – Pixies (Kingsbury Hall, Salt Lake City, UT, 9.28.04)
And now, a Pixies tribute. This seminal rock band, started in 1986, never reached star-touching fame, but their catalog is impressive—not only for its quality, but for its lasting influence on young and hungry musicians everywhere. The Kingsbury Hall performance came in the midst of their reunion tour, which was followed by another break-up, and now, another reunion. “Here Comes Your Man” is a likeable, upbeat tune with a retro-inspired guitar hook. You can’t help but dance.

10. “Thrown Out of Every Bar” – Hank Williams III (2006 Tour)
The third in a line of famous musicians named Hank Williams, Hank the third includes a cover of his father’s irreverent ode to irresponsible behavior in most of his performances. But his particular mix of country, punk and rock bring a special flavor to “Thrown Out of Every Bar.” And who doesn’t like a troubadour with punk tattoos and a country cowboy hat? We are a hip hattery, after all.

11. “Dead Man’s Will” – Iron and Wine (Congress Theater, Chicago, IL, 12.11.05)
Speaking of troubadours, let’s move to a little performance in 2005 in Chicago’s breath-taking Congress Theater. Iron and Wine appeared with Calexico, a frequent collaborator, and brought the proverbial house down. According to eye witnesses, one of the most thrilling moments was the hushed encore of “Dead Man’s Will,” performed acoustically by Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam, his sister and a few members of Calexico. “May my love reach you all/I lost it in myself and buried it too long”: lump-in-throat-inducing lyrics, Sam. (But we’ll forgive you. Because the song is incredible. And we love your beard.)

12. “It’s Not Unusual” – Tom Jones (Riverwind Casino, Norman, OK, 2.14.08)
And now for something completely different. A silly little song that is unabashedly appropriate for Valentine’s Day (unless you do prefer the likes of Modest Mouse as your particular Cupid). Whether you hear this song and think of Tom Jones in velvet and sideburns or of Carlton Banks (cousin of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) treating television audiences to his sweet dance moves, you really can’t help but smile when you hear that opening horn sequence. (And seriously, take a look at Gig Posters. It includes a poster of Tom Jones’s face to hang on your wall. Or throw darts at. Depending on your musical tastes.)

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