When I haven’t been busy grinding it out at my 9-5 or writing snappy little features for a regional magazine, I’ve spent a good bit of my free time lately paying money to watch some of my favorite bands play music. Here’s who I’ve seen:
Oct. 17: The Silver Jews
After catching them in Bloomington, Ind. shortly after they finally began touring a couple of years ago, I was convinced the Silver Jews would never be a good live band. Berman looked like Smokey Lonesome from “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and had the stage presence to match; his girlfriend, Cassie, just plain couldn’t sing; and his small band performed with all of the verve and charisma of a group of recovering head injury patients. So it was to my delight to see how the Silver Jews have fleshed out their sound and found their confidence. It would be hard to ask for a better set, which included “Dallas,” “Pretty Eyes,” “Sometimes a Pony,” “Smith and Jones” and “Suffering Jukebox.” Berman even deigned to play “New Orleans” during the encore in response to a fan request. But as good as the Silver Jews were, in terms of sheer entertainment, my money was best spent on opening act The Mattoid, a novelty singer-songwriter from Finland who lives in Nashville and performs stripped down absurdist garage/pop/metal about drugs, sex, arson and burglary. I would recommend buying one of his CDs, but the recorded versions of his songs pale in comparison to hearing them live. If you ever go to Nashville, or if the Mattoid ever comes to your town, go, go go.
Oct 13: The Mountain Goats and Kaki King
A number of factors conspired to make this show a minor disappointment to me: 1) Kaki King (who’s fine as far as freakishly good guitar players go, but kind of boring live) shared top billing with the Mountain Goats, cutting into their time, 2) A hard curfew cut the show short just after 10 p.m. 3) The set list included quite a few slow tracks, making it even easier for my lobotomized female neighbors to talk above the music, and 4) I only knew about three-fifths of the songs played, many of which were either really new tracks or obscure old ones from Darnielle’s cassette days. Highlights, though, included “San Bernandino,” “Have To Explode,” “So Desparate,” “Next Year,” and — as any hardcore MG fan would expect — a rousing sing-along of “No Children.”
Oct. 19: TV On The Radio and The Dirtbombs
Man, we’re lucky. As if it weren’t already absurdly fortuitous enough that one of the best bands in America was returning to the city’s best live venue for the second consecutive year, we got enjoy the added bonus of a stupendously good opening band, Detroit soul-garage vets The Dirtbombs. It’s not easy for me to muster the energy to get into show-going form on Sunday nights anymore. I arrived at the Vogue feeling like I did during first period in my senior year of high school: Sluggish, apathetic, irritable. The Dirtbombs were just the splash of cold water in the face I needed. I wish I would’ve been closer to the stage so I could have snagged a free beer from the bassist and guitar player (they gave away at least a case during their set). The Dirtbombs gave way to TVOTR, who were just transcendentally good. I haven’t yet gotten intimately acquainted with the new album, but it didn’t matter. TVOTR plays with so much enthusiasm and ardor that only the most stubborn non-fan could legitimately claim not to be moved by it. As someone else noted last night, their spirit is common-cold contagious, and when they went into “Wolf Like Me” midway through the show, the fact that it was a Sunday night in a quiet and uneventful Midwestern town was utterly irrelevent. Their peformance of the song in the below video made my heart swell with pride to just be of the same species as those responsible for it.