Beer and Pavement

Ought at the Luminary

Posted in Live, Review by SM on October 12, 2014

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I drove the long two hours to STL Friday night to see what has been the most pleasant surprise of 2014 for me: Ought. The Montreal quartet ventured to the Show-Me state to play the art space known as The Luminary. Locals Volcanoes opened on an evening when they were officially releasing their new full-length effort, Future Sorority Girls of America.

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Volcanoes opened to celebrate their new opus about sorority girls or something. I’m about to get critical, but keep in-mind this is just one old guy’s opinion. A guy with probably 13 readers for what is suddenly an outdated format. So, take it with a grain of salt. That said, I’ll tell you the good parts first…
Volcanoes are, if nothing else, fantastically skilled musicians. They play a frantic style of rock music that’s a cross between Japandroids and Lightning Bolt. It’s a two piece which finds the players rotating between bass, drums, and keyboards. Nothing is lost as the two Volcanoes move from instrument to instrument. There was a moment when the bass player switched to the drums and he struggled to find the beat, but he quickly recovered and there was never another moment when the two did not click. The vocals are a powerful yelp that somehow stands out over the cacophony of drums, bass, and squealing keyboards. The music is loud, fast, and danceable.

The Future Sorority Girls of America is the album (and play script, apparently) Volcanoes were releasing and featuring in their set. They made sure to remind the crowd the album was for sale throughout the set. Telling us once would have done the trick. From what I could tell, the songs revolve around sorority sisters and their prerequisite superficiality. The songs quoted phone conversations and diary entries of the lives of vapid, bleach-blonde coeds on drunken nights out and whatever sorority girls do. The subject matter is low-hanging fruit, really. It didn’t help that the band continually promoted the album for sale and its accompanying script. It’s a sprawling effort to write a concept album, but who really gives two shits about sororities. Plus, many of the songs come off as misogynist in their critique and mockery of the culture. It’s too easy except when you try to make it seem deep, which Volcanoes are not.

So, there was a lot going on for an opener and this clouded the mood at The Luminary a bit. Since it was Volcanoes’ record release night and their home town, many of their buddies and several older friends and family members were on hand to celebrate. So, this was their show. As the crowd grew and all of them seeming to be very excited, I expected a raucous night, but that didn’t happen. Despite the energy and familiarity in the room, no one danced. I got the distinct feeling that the people were there to be seen and it was an added bonus that they all knew the band. They didn’t give a shit about sorority girls either. The gentrification going on up and down Cherokee was palpable, but nowhere more apparent than inside the Luminary as Volcanoes’ people ventured in from the suburbs to have a mild Friday night. Meh.
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As Volcanoes cleared their massive collection of amps and high-end instruments from the stage, I grew worried. Would Ought be turned off by the mood or even the bro culture filling the venue? Would the lack of energy affect their set? Would the crowd even know what to do with music that was much more subtle and personal in its politics than Volcanoes obvious schtick?

Thankfully, Ought seemed unfazed as they set up their modest pile of equipment, making small talk with the people running sound and a somewhat exuberant fan. They were chill and didn’t appear to have an elaborate configuration. This is a small band in the infancy of what could potentially be an amazing run. They were confident in their place and my anticipation for their set grew exponentially.

Despite a non-egaged audience and some vocal sound issues, Ought put on an intense, urgent set. Frontman Tim Beeler made a statement about the strange feeling that they were coming to St. Louis to play a show instead of joining the fight for justice in nearby Ferguson. This seemed to fall on deaf ears which added to the tension of suburbanites hanging out in an art gallery in a gentrified neighborhood. A video projector played images from the Ferguson protests in the front window of The Luminary. The air was thick and finally Ought played.

These four Montreal transplants are as ferocious on stage as they are on record. More Than Any Other Day is a cross between Talking Heads and The Feelies but with an angry edge just under the surface. On this record, the political is personal like it was for early REM and Minor Threat/Fugazi. It captures the tension of our times like few other albums do these days. All of that comes alive on stage and despite the strange environment, Ought delivered.

In contrast to the recorded material, the keyboards are a more pronounced feature. This fills the sound out for live sets in a way that a produced and remixed album probably doesn’t need. Conversely, the vocals were not nearly as clear as on record. As proven several times throughout the set, this was mainly due to a failing of the venue’s equipment. Also, it felt as if Beeler was holding back as a way to save his voice over the course of a tour during flu and strep season. Still, he delivered his lines with the drama and urgency they dictate.

Ought is a dynamic and tight group. They commented a few times on the odd calm in the room – considering that it was a Friday and this was rock and roll. Still, that didn’t matter. Ought could have looked for the audience to supply them energy, but they sensed that these were the same capitalist suburbanites they sing about in their songs and played their hearts out to them anyway. The coldness of the art gallery setting didn’t help either, but I suspect Ought plays the same in a living room, hole in the wall, or shopping center.

The score of the night was Ought’s new EP Once More with Feeling…, sold at the merch table. One or two of the songs played in Ought’s set were off this EP. It comes in the all-too-rare 10″ format and is set to be officially released later this month.
It rough driving 4 hours roundtrip for two bands, but Ought made it worth it. They met expectations and I hope they find their way to Missouri again, only closer to the middle of the state where I dwell.

BeerNote: For $5(!), I drank Urban Chestnut’s excellent Zwickel Bavarian lager out of a red plastic cup. Although not a lager fan, I really like the Zwickel. It’s smooth without that harsh, cheap lager bite. The sweetness makes the beer particularly palpable without being cloying. Urban Chestnut does a lot of traditional European-style beers and they do them all really well. It’s hard to make it as a craft brewery these days without a lineup of IPA’s and imperial stouts, but Urban Chestnut does it. I was thankful to have a decent beer upon which to sip as I took in Volcanoes and Ought.

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Eleanor Friedberger at the Luminary

Posted in Life, Live, Travelog by SM on November 1, 2011

Those pants.

I won’t attempt to write a review of this show. Too much weird and surreal happened. So, I’ll attempt to just tell you how it all went down Friday night in St. Louis.

My friend Andrew has a college buddy who’s playing bass for Eleanor Friedberger and so he was on the guest list with a +1 (me). The venue was The Luminary, a convent-turned-art space. The basement is a large, open room with a stage that was both wide and shallow in front of a projection screen. To better illustrate the stage’s layout, the drum kit couldn’t sit behind the rest of the band. Rather, it had to be moved to the side.

As Andrew and I waited to meet up with his friend, Matt, we enjoyed a beer. Said beer was a Zwickel from Urban Chestnut, a newer brewery in St. Louis. I have to say that it was a nice beer. I’m not much of a lager drinker, but this beer is smooth, just sweet enough, and features a decent hoppy bitterness I wasn’t expecting. It was nice to have a good beer in a convent-turned-art space, totally unexpected.

Matt introduced us to the rest of the touring band, including Eleanor. No rock star pretensions or snobbery here. Eleanor was a lot of fun to chat with. She and Andrew had several mutual friends and hit it off right away. The entire band was like that, just really friendly and easy-going.

After I let Eleanor try my beer to see if she wanted one of her own, I promptly texted my sister who proceeded to freak out via MMS. She’s a big Fiery Furnaces/Eleanor Friedberg fan and was properly jealous. In fact, I purchased her record based on my sister’s recommendation. My only task as assigned by my little sister was to tell Eleanor that my sister loved her.

In case you weren’t aware, Friday night also happened to be when the seventh game of the World Series was to be played. If you were unaware of this, you also probably didn’t know that St. Louis was hosting said game versus the Texas Rangers. Being the baseball town that St. Louis is, even a joint like the Luminary was showing the game. As you’ll notice below, the game provided some avant-garde, performance art backdrop to the bands playing. We were in no danger of missing game seven despite our indie rock leanings.

Via @EleanorOnly

As a decent local alt.country act played (Pretty Little Empire), Matt asked us if we wanted to hang out in the green room which was actually green. The best part of the room was the high-quality selection of LP’s to keep us busy. Andrew and Matt caught up, I sat and figured this was my chance to relay my sister’s message to Eleanor. She seemed flattered and even offered to add my sister to the guest list for her next show in Ohio. (I watched her enter the name into her phone. So, I assumed she was serious.)

I saw the opportunity to tell Eleanor how much I really like her new record…

[It’s really an oversight on my part that I have yet to write about this record. I purchased Last Summer weeks after its release. So, I didn’t feel the need or opportunity to write-up a proper review. It will surely make my year-end list. I figured I’d say what I was going to say about it at that point. It’s a really great record. Some might even say that it’s more accessible than her Fiery Furnaces material. Either way, this is a fantastic collection of rock songs. The production reminds me a ton of the Destroyer record, but it’s far more tolerable than Dan Bejar’s eighties-inspired Kaputt. Highlights include “My Mistakes”, “Heaven”, and “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” You can get an idea an idea by watching the video for “My Mistakes” here.]

That’s when my filter quit working.

Here’s a tip for any of you if you ever get to meet an artist whom you respect and really enjoy their work: Don’t tell them about why it’s so hard to like their music.

After telling Eleanor how much I liked her new record, I proceeded to tell her that it was more accessible than a lot of the Fiery Furnaces stuff. I expanded this thought by telling her how there’s some stuff FF recorded that I can’t stand, but I loved other material. The part about how much I loved some of the music was lost as everyone in the green room gave me a hard time over this social faux pas. I quickly tried to back out by explaining that I played Last Summer for my wife who promptly told me to shut it off. This didn’t help.

For whatever good karma I earned sharing my beer, relaying my sister’s admiration, and complementing Last Summer, it was all lost as I inadvertently insulted the artist I was excited to see perform that night. Ugh.

That was the moment when a kid working for the venue informed the band that it was time for them to set up. Andrew and I had to leave before I could explain my way out of the mess I had just made. At that moment, I hoped my sister’s invite to attend the show in Cleveland was still on. Either way, I had to pull my foot from my mouth so that we could return to the basement for the show.

A decent crowd showed despite the fact that the World Series game was going on at the same time. If I remember correctly, the Cards were up 6-2 at this point and were looking good going into the final few innings. Regardless, we would watch the end as Eleanor and her band mates played.

Like I said, I’m not writing a review, but this is basically what happened for the next hour or so…

The band opened with “My Mistakes” which is incredibly danceable and catchy. A new song was introduced and the night was off without a hitch. Backing Eleanor was a professionally smooth trio on bass, drums, and guitar. Matt played bass next to a drummer in hoody and jacket. I have never seen a drummer stay relatively perspiration-free while wearing so many layers, plus a full head of hair and beard. Still, he could hit some skins. That solid rhythm section was fronted by Eleanor and this kid from Tennessee (whose name I’ve forgotten) on guitars. This “kid” (he’s 21), told me later that he’s normally a drummer, but I would swear that guitar is his first instrument. He played effortlessly, even some of the more difficult parts appeared easy in his capable hands.

Eleanor was in synch with her band, holding the crowd’s attention with every word. She has a presence on stage for sure, something that would have been hard to imagine after hanging out with her prior to the performance, finding her relatively unassuming. Because I’m a lazy blogger, I’d compare her look and presence like that of Patti Smith, but it was even more like a Stephen Malkmus, sans the bratty attitude. She was easily the coolest person in the room. Even her attire suggested she was better than the rest of us despite her approachable demeanor. (I think Andrew said something like “Those pants!”)

Throughout, Eleanor and the band had fun and it encouraged those in the audience to do the same. They checked in on the band between songs. Sometimes they became transfixed with the commercials. At one point, Eleanor decided to sing to the screen only to find an American Idol commercial was playing. She nearly lost it mid-song.

Adding to the fun was the fact that 3-4 new songs were thrown in and none disappointed. If anything, these new songs added to what is potentially great oeuvre. Of course, the songs from Last Summer translated well live. A live show featuring newer material can make or break an album’s staying power for me. Friday night’s show assured me that Last Summer is good art and even better pop. Of course, good songwriting, charisma, and solid musicianship has that effect.

The set progressed as did the baseball game in the background. Eleanor announced the last song during the ninth inning. It was a perfectly timed selection “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” Watch…

Yep. That’s how it went down. The band did come back to play [enter song here that escapes my memory] in a rather Ramones-like way – you know, punk rock oldies. The song finished what was a pretty fantastic night of music and baseball.

We said our goodbyes to the band. I sheepishly went over to the merch table to say goodbye to Eleanor. She assured me that my sister would be on the list in Cleveland, demonstrating that she wasn’t sore about my unintentional insults. It was cool for her to offer in the first place, but even cooler to ignore my rudeness and assure me that my sister was still on the list. Nice girl, that Eleanor Friedberger.