Friday, March 26, 2010

Karen Elson at Le Poisson Rouge 3/22/2010

I covered Karen Elson's show for
SPOOK Magazine's website. You can read the review here, but they cut the last two paragraphs so the full story is below.

Karen Elson’s guitar is about a hundred years old. Discontinued in the early 1920s, the Gibson Style O Artist has an oval soundhole and a cute little curly-cue detail on the top bout with a sharp cutaway on the lower bout. There’s also a mother-of-pearl fleur de lys inlay on the headstock. It’s insanely beautiful.

The rest of Elson’s live act is equally vintage-inspired. Monday night, Ms. Jack White and her five-piece band took to Le Poisson Rouge’s stage clad in fedoras and feathered hats, armed with old-timey instruments like the accordion and pedal steel guitar. This show marked the New York debut of Elson’s solo act (the British supermodel has previously performed as a member of the NYC-based performing arts collective The Citizen’s Band). Playing to a rapt audience that included Vogue Magazine’s Creative Director Grace Coddington, Elson performed songs from her forthcoming hubby-produced album The Ghost Who Walks.

There is no doubt that Elson has talent. Her voice is clear as a bell and she’s also a pretty decent songwriter (Elson wrote all of the songs on The Ghost Who Walks save for one). But where Elson shines is in recreating a sound that recalls simpler times long since past. Her best songs are influenced by the American country music that existed before Shania Twain’s midriff and Kenny Chesney’s pectorals made it almost unrecognizable from the simple song forms and folksy elements that defined the genre in its early days. This classic aesthetic was probably best exemplified in “Cruel Summer,” a song inspired by the torrential weather patterns in country music mecca Nashville, where Elson currently resides with White and their two children. Another highlight was the more theatrical “100 Years From Now,” originally written for The Citizen’s Band. When Elson strays from nostalgia-tinged sounds in favor of more radio-friendly folk-pop driven songs like show opener “Pretty Babies,” it’s not that it’s particularly bad, just forgettable. She is clearly capable of something much more unique and interesting and these songs end up as filler next to a few true gems.

Elson seemed a bit shy when it came to entertaining the audience in during breaks in the music so she relied on explaining the origin of a few of her songs. The most interesting tidbit she divulged was that “The Truth Is In The Dirt” is an Eartha Kitt quote Elson discovered while reading the actress’s obituary. Towards the end of the set, Elson’s voice seemed to grow tired but she returned to the stage for an encore and performed two more songs. The first was a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s folk ballad “Milk And Honey” and the last was her new album’s title track. The video for “The Ghost Who Walks” features Elson playing the song solo while her band patiently waits in the background. At the show, they finally get to join in on the fun and the addition of a full band gives the song a fuller, more rhythmic groove while the organ solo contributed a psychedelic twist.

Being hitched to a living rock legend may cause skepticism for many music fans but Karen Elson has proved that her first solo effort is no vanity project. And like most things, she can only get better with age.

The Ghost Who Walks is due in late May.

Photo courtesy of The Greyest Ghost.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You Should Know About Karen Elson, Free Energy (maybe), Local Natives, Wakey! Wakey!, and Yeasayer

Karen Elson, the ridiculously good-looking mother of Jack White's children, is releasing her first solo album The Ghost Who Walks in late May and I will be covering her NYC debut at Le Poisson Rouge for SPOOK Magazine. The video for the title track can be found above. It's not bad. Definitely gets me interested in hearing more of her songs. Very eerie. And the bass player (holder?) reminds me of the girl from The Ring. Creep factory. Scary stuff.

But even scarier is Free Energy live. Unfortnately, I saw them on Friday at The Knitting Factory. Don’t get me wrong, I like the band’s debut LP Stuck on Nothing. You can’t deny how catchy the songs are and they get extra points for having it produced by James Murphy. But I guess I should have realized that if the sound of the music is fun, post-punk pop, there are going to be a lot of “bros” at the show. They were all underage, wearing neon, and dancing up a storm at the front of the stage while the older, more darkly dressed members of the crowd kept safe by the bar. The band didn’t really make up for the annoying audience with a stellar performance. The singer was not-quite-flat-but-just-enough-to-make-it-sound-off most of the time and the overall sound was way too quiet. Basically, I’ll listen to their CD when I want something easy to sing along to, but I’m kind of over this band. I heard that Foreign Born (which is comprised of members of Fool's Gold, who knew?) made everything better with their headlining set, but I was too discouraged to stick around. Photo courtesy of BrooklynVegan.

Other bands I’ve been sleeping on but have no time to write about, all of which you should know about: Local Natives (their song “Airplanes” has made me cry several times this week), Wakey!Wakey! (woohoo Brooklyn!), and Yeasayer (whose video for O.N.E. is trippy and awesome and can be found below).

One last thing for all you SXSWers: I hate you (I'm jealous), don't overtweet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

20,000 days old

My dad is really good at a lot of things. Point to any star in the sky and he can tell you its name and what constellation it's a part of. His advice is constantly sought out in the professional world of commercial real estate development (yeah, I still don't really get what he does for a living) and I would never want to play opposite him in a cutthroat game of Trivial Pursuit.

But where Mike Dev's true calling lies is in writing (sorry Dad, but you were never going to be the next Eric Clapton). Unfortunately, he's too shy and modest to saturate the world with proof of his genius. That's why it's always a treat for me (and the others on his email list) to find a nice little hello in my inbox. Today he turns 20,000 days old and ponders the way we measure our lives (kind of like that Rent song). If one day I can write half as good as this, I'll consider myself lucky. So read below to become a fan of dear old Dad. And if you happen to be out at happy hour later (yeah I meant to get this up much earlier but real life got in the way), toast to his 20,000th day!

In what now seems decades ago (the heck with seems, a decade-and-a-half warrants pluralization), I turned forty in a haze of self-doubt and self-loathing.
At least that’s what I imagined. Martine just thought it was acid reflux. By fifty (fitty?), I may have still had my doubts but, in the interest of reduced carb intake, I was down to well under half a loath.

As I near 55, I realize I‘ve never been comfortable with the typical annual and decennial method for marking time. I was told that years were like milestones we passed on this journey through life, but I didn’t buy it. Because life isn’t like a journey.

It’s like a pinball game.

You pull back the plunger and let the ball fly and suddenly it’s out there on the table, boinging off bumpers, running up ramps, rolling through rollovers, spinning spinners, while you’re maniacally flipping flippers hoping to keep the ball in play as the machine clatters and clangs and the counters click the score into the stratosphere. You’re in the moment, cruising along and then the ball makes like a bullet between the flippers and its gone.

Dead silence. So you try it again. And again. Maybe you get a few bonus balls. And maybe you have to pull out another quarter and start all over (I’m showing my antiquity here - Now all you do is swipe your debit card). So pinball produces giddy excitement and breathless anticipation followed by quiet despair. And then you pay more money. Note the life parallels.

That’s why we should adopt the pinball scoring system. Big numbers, something to be proud of, in an over-the-top, All-American way, unafraid to exceed double, triple, quadruple digits and more.

So what do we count - heartbeats? No, that would be like counting seconds (I’m up over 2 billion heartbeats already, at an average of 72 beats per minute – not counting the ten or twelve times it was racing along at up to 120 BPM for two to three minutes at a clip. Thank you. Thank you. You know who you are). Minutes and hours as well, they flash by too quickly to notice.

But days work. They’re the right unit of measurement. I can easily remember days that changed my life. That day in 1980 when Martine walked down the aisle toward me. The day we brought Caitlin home from the hospital and it first really hit me that she was our responsibility. And the day that Sam made his entry into this world, (an homage a la Alien,), and I followed all the nurses and doctors around until I was sure he was just fine.

Great days. Ones that changed my life for the better. And so many other great days. Like the days I met each of you (who are plowing through this message this morning and regretting the day we met).

I’m 20,000 days old today. That’s a good, round number. A good pinball number. Certainly better than 55 - a wussy, conserving fuel, speed limit kind of number if ever there was one. I’m not counting birthdays anymore.

Thanks for being part of the great days of my life. I hope you have a great day today.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wild Beasts at Music Hall of Williamsburg 2/28/2010

Once again, seeing a band live has made me fall for them much harder than I was before stepping foot in the venue. Read about my four new crushes (anything British is automatically cool) over at Frequency. Cheerio chaps!

Photo courtesy of Taylor Long/ via Flickr.