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Live Review: Meursault with Sick Lion at the Crown, Baltimore, MD – 24th March 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

While Baltimore is not that far away, it is a hike from DC, so I personally don’t get out there as often I probably should. However, this past Sunday was a very special occasion and related to the week Carrie and I spent out in Austin for this year’s SXSW. We haven’t gotten to our Saturday SXSW coverage yet (hopefully it’ll be all online later this week), but a band that impressed us so much that we ended up seeing them twice in 7 hours was Edinburgh band Meursault, fronted by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook. Myself and Cheryl, who I knew would love them upon first listen, headed north to see the band play in Baltimore, as the previous night’s show in Washington had been cancelled. It’s like they say, desperate times call for desperate measures… Joining Pennycook at SXSW and on a tour of America via RV are Rob St. John on bass and Sam Mallalieu on drums.

I celebrated my 5 years in music writing while we were in Austin, and I have been contemplating quite a bit about how my musical tastes have changed since 2009. I like to think that since starting my music as a professional venture, I have broadened my horizons significantly when it comes to sounds and voices I like, though I sincerely wonder if I would have liked Meursault if they had appeared at my first SXSW in 2012. Probably not. However, this year as we stood spellbound watching them play stood down the front at the British Music Embassy, there is no question that in Mary Chang’s life, there is certainly room for headbanging. While I think both Cheryl and I assumed the Crown on North Charles Street would be a dive bar, we were surprised by the impressive array of libations on tap (they had cider on tap, which is rare to find in DC) and the menu from which we could order from even at 10 at night. Take that, Washington. Crispin’s for $6? We may have just found our new favourite bar.

The opening act was local to Baltimore solo artist Lucas Rambo, playing under the moniker Sick Lion. The gig promoter explained to me that Rambo is in another band, American Folklore, but his work with Sick Lion is “more soundscape-y”. Definitely on the experimental side of things, Rambo wore a large straw hat and a navy blue trenchcoat-cum-housecoat, but you couldn’t really see him because he was squatting down behind one of the monitors on the stage. I’m not sure if he did this because he’s shy or if in that position, he felt his voice sounded better.

From what we could see from our vantage point, Rambo had a fairly swish sequencer at his disposal, and was intoning gloom into his microphone. A visit to his Bandcamp does show you even he himself describes his music as ‘spooky’, so make of that what you will, in addition to a video of burning Mexican prayer candles projected on the screen behind him. Unfortunately, he was a little too out there experimentally for us to appreciate, I think.

After watching and thoroughly enjoying two sets by Meursault in Austin, I recognised the guitars on stage when we arrived at the Crown and started to get a little giddy. Oddly, the woman taking covers at the door asked *me* if I knew what was happening there that night. I was happy to help – I explained to her that a kick arse band from Edinburgh were to play there that night – but being asked that by staff there was a little strange to say the least! That began my night on a funny note. And the humour kept coming, thanks first to a projection of the ’80s film Blue Velvet superimposed on top of the band as they played, then on to Pennycook.

The man is clearly witty, and I don’t know if it’s a Scottish thing, but I was bowled over by the friendships I made – and continued – with Scots at this SXSW that I am confident that the Scots are a very charming people. Pennycook made everyone at the Crown laugh by asking open questions like, “is there anyone here who has never seen a Scottish person before?” He even solicited questions from the audience, with one punter biting, asking him, “what does Scott Hutchison smell like?”, to which he answered, “vanilla.” The punter was won over, saying, “I was just testing you.” Laughter all around.

But we were there for the music, right? Pennycook is also clearly someone who gives his songwriting an awful lot of thought. Sunday night’s rockier version of ‘William Henry Miller’ was inspired by a rockier cover by fellow Scots PAWS of the Meursault original, which was intended to be played on banjo. Got all that? Also, there’s this rumour that William Henry Miller, an actual Scottish politician, was a hermaphrodite and the legend has it that he wanted to be buried face down so he could watch the sinners down in hell. Or so sayeth Pennycook. Either way, it makes for an intriguing premise for a song, and I think we all agree that for a rock show, we’d rather hear the punked out version, yeah?

The set ended with the age old question in a song title ‘Was ist das?’, which is about as good as any song to dispel this horrible rumour having been spread round by someone reviewing this year’s SXSW that Meursault are an alt-folk band. Yes, so what if Pennycook knows how to play a banjo? Alt-folk bands don’t jump down from the stage and wail on their guitars, ok? Alt-folk bands also do not have a lead singer whose emotion you can feel in his visceral roars into the microphone and incites headbanging and hair flying. Listen to Meursault, and you will hear the difference. And maybe they’ll change your life.

 

Live Review: Ed Sheeran with Foy Vance and Rizzle Kicks at Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD – 29th January 2013

 
By on Monday, 4th February 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

A more respectful bunch of crazies, I have never witnessed. Seriously, Ed Sheeran fans take the cake. I know U2 fans queue for days, but they have a spectacle to see. This is for a boy. And a guitar. And nothing else. Even the venue tweeted a picture of the queue that morning saying it was the earliest they had *ever* had a queue. That’s the crazy. I’ll get to the respectful later.

I’d seen the ginger play five times before, so it was for opening act Foy Vance that I made the hour and a half trek north. I had been warned about the power of his live show, but was still taken by surprise when this Belfast-born, blue-eyed bluesman ripped open my soul. And it wasn’t just me. The sea of youngsters around me embraced his every heartfelt note having never even heard his name before. “I’m in love with that Foy guy” was exclaimed quite near me at the break. So the wisdom from years of honing his craft, the pain and longing that drips through his lyrics and the emotion that tears through his raw delivery transcends age and genre. From the opening notes of ‘I’ve Got Love’ to the soaring sing along of ‘Guiding Light’, Vance won over an audience that had likely never heard of him, and further more probably never would have heard of him if Ed Sheeran hadn’t brought him along for the ride. Cheers to you Mr. Sheeran for taking the incomparable Foy Vance with you through America.

Foy Vance Baltimore

Next on the bill was Rizzle Kicks; a much more simpatico pairing with Sheeran’s style. These Brit School buds went down a treat with the crowd. With ‘Mama Do the Hump’ and ‘Down with the Trumpets’, the duo blasted the largely female crowd with their beats and moves. It didn’t hurt at all that they both sported local sports teams’ shirts – including a Baltimore Raven’s AFC Championship shirt. (The Ravens were set play in this year’s Super Bowl, just days away.) Quite popular at home, Rizzle Kicks are finding a welcoming new audience on these American shores.

Rizzle Kicks Baltimore

But back to that respectful crowd. Girls who scream and faint (yes, two of them went down that I saw) over their favorite singer are not typically known to be the respectful kind. But having seen the man play multiple times now, I am pleased to say that I am most impressed with the crowd he draws. Or perhaps they are all so in love with him that they would do anything for him – including being totally silent. Yes, a gig where the singer asked the audience not to sing along, and NO ONE did. Impressive.

Ed Sheeran Baltimore 1

So whether it was a raucous sing along like ‘Drunk’ or a delicate number like the ‘Kiss Me’ duet with Vance, everyone standing there gave it the proper treatment. Sure there was the random ‘I love you’ screamed out, but even that was less than I have seen at other gigs. The encore was particularly special consisting of deluxe album version only song ‘Gold Rush’ – complete with a nod to Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’, hidden track ‘The Parting Glass’ and Sheeran’s biggest hit ‘The A Team’.

Ed Sheeran has been on a grueling touring schedule since he broke in mid-2011. He is a talented bloke and an immense performer, I hope for more great things from him. And I honestly hope he gets a bit of a rest soon. Then again, he is only 21. Ahhhh, youth.

Ed Sheeran Baltimore 2

After the cut: the set lists.
Continue reading Live Review: Ed Sheeran with Foy Vance and Rizzle Kicks at Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD – 29th January 2013

 

Bands to Watch #258: E.M. Spencer

 
By on Wednesday, 10th October 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Legend has it that Steve Lamacq was handed a Bloc Party demo in the toilet during a Franz Ferdinand gig in 2003. We all know what happened to them. While I have no illusions of having anywhere near the influence of dear ol’ Lammo, when a similar thing happened to me this summer, the Bloc Party story was fresh on my mind. These days, Baltimore, Maryland is most synonymous with the likes of Animal Collective and Beach House, but maybe it will soon be known for another band.

At the Keane gig in June, I was handed two CDs by Baltimore quartet E.M. Spencer. Baltimore’s WNST radio presenter Nestor Aparicio has been quoted as saying, “they sound like R.E.M. before they sucked!” Whether you like Michael Stipe and co.’s music or not, I think a band that warrants any public comparison to the revered indie band deserves further notice. Like many of the bands you’ve come to know and love through our writers’ discovery and subsequent obsession with them, E.M. Spencer has existed in different incarnations over the last 10 years before arriving to their current line-up, featuring Allen McCallum on bass, Greg Silver on keys, Kurt Shriner on guitar and Jerry Fields, the relative newcomer, on drums. Sounds like a usual setup for a rock band, yeah? But this isn’t any ordinary rock band.

Let us for a moment recall the Fab Four, who 50 years ago this week released their first single, ‘Love Me Do’. Until about 2/3rd the way into their all too short career together, the Beatles pretty much only had two principal songwriters: the legendary partnership of Lennon-McCartney. It is still pretty uncommon these days, some 5 decades later, to encounter a band that has more than one very good principal songwriter. In E.M. Spencer, you have three, and their styles are quite disparate. (Maybe this accounts for these “several previous incarnations” as described on their press sheets…)

On their current album ‘Breathe’, McCallum’s song ‘Countermeasures’ opening the album is a happier Lemonheads with marimba, whereas Shriner’s angle is more of a Byrds one, as shown in ‘Patience’ and ‘Summertime’. McCallum and Shriner’s styles overlap in ‘It Seems to Me’ and ‘Natalie’, which will remind listeners of Ben Folds Five. In contrast, Silver prefers a more growly, garage sound, like a non-threatening Stooges in ‘Irony’. The album also includes songs written by a late friend, whose sister allowed them to interpret them for recording on this release; these are the expansive ‘Vertigo Beach’ and title track ‘Breathe’, the latter of which you can read more about here.

 

Live Review: The Lumineers with Good Nights, States at Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD – 1st July 2012

 
By on Thursday, 12th July 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

The current roots rock revival that is sweeping music these days has made way for Denver, Colorado band the Lumineers to sell out venue after venue in America as they make a name for themselves with their brand of foot stomping joy.

Starting this night was Good Night, States, a four-piece hailing from Pittsburgh who happen to be good friends of the Lumineers. I see a lot of support acts that cause me to look hard to find something I like. This band, however, delighted me from the start. Calling themselves “analogue rock/synth folk”, I was expecting some interesting sounds. While the album exploits the use of their vintage analog synthesizers a bit more, the live show still managed to highlight that specialty. Keyboard player Megan Lindsey even showed off a bit of theremin-like hand waving over her keyboard. Good Night, States captivated the crowd with four part harmonies, rousing good music and smart, complex lyrics. After all where would you find the words “palliative” and “gerrymandering” in the same song? The crowd even got a bit of an early thrill as two of the members of the Lumineers joined them in stage for their final song. The band is rounded out by Steve Gretz (guitar/vocals), Trevor Baker (bass/vocals) and Dan Harding (drums).

From the first chanting response from the revel makers, the Lumineers proved that they were worthy of their “biggest sold out show EVER” in Baltimore, Maryland. What was started by the opener ‘Submarines’ really kicked into high gear with ‘Classy Girls’, a tribute to all the girls who don’t “put out the good china” on the first date. And if that wasn’t enough, the current single ‘Ho Hey’ split the ‘hollering’ part between the floor and the balcony with the “heys” and the “hos” continuing strongly throughout the entire song. The touching ‘Charlie Boy’ showed the strength of the three main members by bringing them alone to the front of the stage with just an acoustic guitar, cello, and mandolin. It still surprises me how much soaring, beautiful sound can come from just three simple instruments. The encore brought the band back for an off-mic song at the apron of the stage that found Stelth Ulvang playing accordion way up in the balcony. Often, this song ‘Darlene’ finds the band on the floor of the venue, but this was the biggest place they’d sold out as of yet, so the balcony it was.

The spate of folk/Americana rolling through the airwaves has seen many a band step up to the call and try to take the mantle from Mumford and Sons. Some bands have produced masterful albums, such as Of Monsters and Men, but have a gentle performance style. Others have albums that may present their genius in a quieter way, but their live shows are explosive and transformative. The Lumineers are definitely selling us their soul through their live shows. The three main members of the Lumineers, Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Peckarek, were joined on stage by Ben Wahoviaki and Ulvang to fill out their live sound.

But what sets them apart is that in addition to their infectious sound, the band brings their members front and center. Fraites is not hidden behind his drum kit all night, no, there was another kick drum right out front at which Fraites often stood, drum kicking and foot stomping and singing away. With Peckarek on cello and Fraites and Ulvang sharing mandolin duty, the Lumineers swarmed the stage and took us on a great journey. I do have a soft spot for fun drummers, and Fraites surely met all the qualification. Not content to sit at his drum kit, he switched between standing, wandering, playing the drum up front, and yes, plain sitting down drumming. He even pulled out a small blue glockenspiel near the end of the set. Yup, that’s a fun drummer.

Chatting with members of both bands afterwards, they just about fell over themselves to make sure I said something wonderful about the other band. So, not only were they delightful musicians they were nice people to boot. What a joy! After they finish up a summer’s worth of support tours the Lumineers hit the UK and Ireland playing with The Civil Wars in late October/early November. Having now seen both them and The Civil Wars, I can tell you, you won’t want to miss that!

After the cut: the Lumineers’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: The Lumineers with Good Nights, States at Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD – 1st July 2012

 

Live Gig Videos: Two Door Cinema Club songs new and old at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live

 
By on Wednesday, 20th June 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

TGTF covered Two Door Cinema Club‘s show in Baltimore, Maryland last Tuesday, and here as promised are videos of ‘You’re Not Stubborn’, freebie ‘Costume Party’, new ones ‘Handshake’ and ‘This is Moon’ and fan favourite ‘What You Know’. Enjoy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9xJofVcxX8[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w0j8qqWu2Y[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W99QX8XyqpQ[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQ-luiS8NL0[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-wo2LJHyoU[/youtube]

 

Live Review: Two Door Cinema Club at Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD – 12th June 2012

 
By on Monday, 18th June 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

On the second to last date of their spring 2012 North American tour, Bangor’s Two Door Cinema Club decided to make a visit to a place they’d never been: Baltimore, Maryland. I myself don’t like the idea of trekking up a hour (usually more or in our case this night, nearly 2 hours) in traffic up the I-95 motorway, though if you ask Cheryl, she is there is all the time for gigs. Unless it’s a band that I’m dying to see that I know won’t be coming to Washington, I don’t bother. However, since seeing Two Door Cinema Club opening for Phoenix 2 years ago and watching their popularity skyrocket, I thought I better see them again before they become Coldplay untouchable and play at massive sport arenas. Because of the distance from DC, I didn’t expect the show to be sold out, until I had a look at the tour dates and noticed not just DC but Philadelphia as well had been left out of this tour.

I have always been claustrophobic. So you’re probably wondering how in god’s name I manage to survive music festivals or even sold out gigs in small, dark, confined spaces. Let’s just say I do them very carefully and with a lot of stress. Whenever possible, I arrive early to shows to get in the queue early in order to secure a desired and prime viewing and photography spot. I am of the mind that the time you arrive dictates your viewing location; you arrive late, that’s your decision, you stand wherever there is room in the back. However, as you can probably expect with a young band like Two Door, there were hordes of impolite teenage girls who don’t understand the meaning of ‘queue’, insisting instead on pushing their way to the front. Usually, I pay little mind to people like this, as long as my view is not obstructed and they’re not trying to push me out of the way. The injuries and bruising are just not worth it. But with Two Door Cinema Club, it’s different. I saw this band play to a nearly empty Constitution Hall in May 2010 and have been with them and writing about them from the beginning. If it wasn’t for some excited yet pretty nice kids around us, it would have made for a pretty bad evening.

The first opener was Bad Veins and it appeared I was the only person in the place who not only knew who they were but actually liked them. The Cincinnati duo released their first album in 2009 on American label Dangerbird (who have since signed Delphic and Beady Eye), yet I’m guessing something must have happened because then this label relationship dissolved and they released a new album in April on Austin label Modern Outsider. I was fine with their ‘former’ sound that was definitely on the alt side of rock, but I’ve noticed with new tracks like ‘Dancing on TV’ (video below), they’ve adopted a more poppy sound, a poppier sound that appeared to be going over well with the rabid Two Door crowd.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4nZfjQYgEs[/youtube]

So it was most unfortunate that near the end of their set, singer Ben Davis went into his mike stand and fell off the stage. It happened so fast and people rushed to his side, I honestly thought that it was part of the act. But evidently it wasn’t: there was some dicey moments as it was revealed that he was bleeding from the back of his head from the spot where he hit his head on the concrete. What an ill-timed and dramatic ending to their set, just as they’d started to get the audience behind them. He finally got up and walked off, saying “sorry guys!” with a smile before leaving amid crowd cheers.

From what I can tell as a UK music blog editor, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a hell lot bigger abroad than they are at home. We’ve even given away tickets to their shows before. Their first song in Baltimore. was ‘Satan Said Dance’, which features the word “Satan” being repeated. A lot. The band went on hiatus in 2007: a 4-year album drought that broke fans’ hearts around the world but now they’re back, though I’m not really sure a Two Door Cinema Club tour is the way to win their fans’ hearts and minds back. Before heading up to Baltimore I read a review of this tour in Florida, where the blogger mused that the show sold only because CYHSY fans were in attendance (a bit of a backhanded compliment to Two Door regarding the sold out show). I can only say for those on the floor, everyone was there for Two Door, with some of the antsy younger fans yelling, “get off the stage!” and” we want Two Door!” in the hopes that CYHSY would truncate their set. All in all, they persevered in difficult conditions, even if their energetic music wasn’t to the taste of most people there.

And then came time for the long-awaited appearance of Two Door Cinema Club. I am probably showing my age – and years of gigging experience – when I say that I’m not impressed with over the top strobe lighting and if there is too much of it, I look away. Nevertheless, this was the first time in the DC/MD/VA area, not counting Virgin Free Fest last summer, where they brought their own lighting rig, and the difference it made in the overall atmosphere was astounding. This was obvious by the palpable increased excitement you could feel down on the floor. For many of these kids, this was probably their first big show with lighting to befit an arena, let alone a place like Rams Head. Thank goodness for earplugs: I’m pretty sure my ears would have popped with all the girls screaming.

The majority of punters would have been fine if the band had just stuck to tracks off ‘Tourist History’, but as any Two Door fan worth his or her salt knows, they’re finishing up album #2 and have been previewing new songs on this trip around our country. One of them, called ‘Sleep Alone’, made the festival rounds last year and has been popping up in the encore on this tour; I filmed a couple other videos, which will appear on TGTF later this week.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=234f4ZJqUFk[/youtube]

So how did I feel after this show? This was my fourth time seeing Two Door and having been a supporter of them ever since ‘Something Good Can Work’ was being played on BBC Radio in late 2009, I am so proud of where they are and them being so successful, because it’s proof hard work and real talent pays off. But I’m getting vibes of those girls who first watched the Beatles at the Cavern when they were unknown outside of Liverpool; Two Door don’t ‘belong’ to me anymore, they belong to everyone, far and wide on this great planet of ours.

Which is fine and it’s just the universe running its course, because I knew in my heart when I first queued up a sampler of theirs from Kitsune at Christmas 2009, it was obvious to me immediately that they were destined to bigger, better things. But there is still a part of me that yearns for days when we first met, when they were traveling all over America with Phoenix, wide-eyed and eager to learn the touring musician lifestyle from a band they so looked up to. Gone are the days when I could easily have gone up to them after a gig, to congratulate them on a great show and give them a hug of encouragement. What’s next for Two Door Cinema Club? If this show is any indication, their star will only burn brighter.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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