Megafaun with Grandma Sparrow @ DC9

Grandma Sparrow

Grandma Sparrow

Grandma Sparrow is a new project from Megafaun’s drummer, Joe Westerlund.

It’s a wild, trippy, work that runs more akin to 200 Motels Zappa than what you might expect from Megafaun. Sporting costumes to represent various characters in the lysergic nursery school narrative, Westerlund leads the band and the audience on a wacky journey that must be witnessed.

Grandma Sparrow Flies

The band that Joe has backing him is killer (Canine Heart Sounds from Durham, NC) and their efforts reveal that this is no lark of a comedy show. The music is serious and swings quickly from what could be a psychedelic spin on Alice Cooper, “This Is My Wheelhouse”, to a “Twelve Tone Lullaby”.  Watch for these guys to come around.

Check out a track here.

Megafaun with Justin Vernon

Megafaun with Justin Vernon

Next up was Megafaun. They’ve basically been on hiatus while each guy does their own thing and, aside from these dates this week, that hiatus isn’t over any time soon. So this was special. Their old friend Justin Vernon (Bon Iver (in case you live under rocks)) had pulled them together for a thing this weekend and they turned it a week of rehearsals, hanging out, and three public shows. (Tonight they play Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, NY. If you can go, GO.)
The four piece band took the stage with Brad and Justin switching off bass & guitar throughout the night. I’m not going to pretend to be an objective rock journalist here. I love this band and I’ve gotten to know these guys a little bit and I could not be more biased. They played great songs and they fun they had on stage radiated out into the crowd who was also having a great time and watched rather attentively.

Amid a selection of their best original songs they gave us a great cover of The Band’s “Ain’t No More Cane” and Ry Cooder’s “Boomer’s Story”. The latter featured dual slide guitars from Justin and Phil and was, simply terrific. Late in the set, Matthew E. White was called to the stage. (I’ve raved about his album on this blog and he produced the Grandma Sparrow record for his Spacebomb label.) With White and Vernon on guitar, and Phil Cook manning the keys, the band played through a playful version of “His Robe”, a spacey reading of “Real Slow” and a blistering performance of “Kaufman’s Ballad” to close the set.

Megafaun with Matthew E White

Megafaun with Matthew E White

The five-piece band left the stage and only the three core members returned for the encore. Phil brought his banjo, Brad his Martin acoustic, and Joe brought only his voice. The plugs were out, microphones set aside, adn the band sang a heartfelt version of “Worried Mind” from the stage lip accompanied by the audience for the final choruses.

So ended a special night of music that I, for one, will treasure for some time.


DC9 – Washington, DC

Grandma Sparrow opening

Ain’t No More Cane
The Fade
Second Friend
You Are The Light
Boomer’s Story
Get Right
Unchained (sung by J. Vernon)
Carolina Days
His Robe*
Real Slow*
Kaufman’s Ballad*
Worried Mind^

Justin Vernon on backing vocals & Guitar or bass for the whole show
*Matthew E White on guitar
^Trio only, Acoustic. Phil on Banjo, Brad on guitar.

Worried Mind

Worried Mind


More pictures of Grandma Sparrow: Here

More pictures of Megafaun: Here

A Poem

I stood at the Sad
Infinite American
Night’s edge where I blinked

Though fear made me blink
The Infinite surrounds us
Fish can’t fear water

Sadness like a cloak
Dampened by rain keeps us cold
I feared to regret

Unpaved uphill roads
With falling rocks and washouts
lead to gorgeous peaks

Smooth highways beckon
Invent thyself and ramble!
American void

Stare. It won’t stare back
Step forth and wrestle the void
Best hope is a draw

Conventional means
Keep the void roughly arm’s length
Still I probe the edge

Poised on the safe side
Bound by the word I’ve given
Still pushing uphill

Reaping rewards
With the worst of my regrets
vanquished by a blink

Phish – Wingsuit

2013-10-31 Phishbill "Wingsuit"

2013-10-31 Phishbill

On Halloween, Phish eschewed the traditional “Costume Set” wherein the band covers a classic album and, instead, took the bold move of debuting 12 new songs that, they announced, would likely comprise the bulk of their yet-to-be-recorded new album. While writing and rehearsals for the album had taken place over the last year, none of these tunes had been played for a Phish audience. The band hoped that the live experience would add to their understanding of each of these songs as they go into the studio to record with legendary producer, Bob Ezrin, in the first week of November.

“Wingsuit” starts with thin vocals and a refrain that feels tentative, but warms a bit with a strong guitar solo. The lyrics are not ambiguous and sound very much of the 3.0 era, honest and direct about life and how to live it. I suspect that this will grow significantly in the studio into a great piece of audio work. It was followed by “Feugo” which kicks off with a strong instrumental sequence followed by a chanted verse and big, sing-songy, wordless chorus. This song turned around a lot of people who were unsure after the set began with “Wingsuit”. The various segments of “Feugo” illustrate a lot of what Phish does in this era: quick changes, high tempo riffing, and a healthy dose of darkness.

“The Line” pushes the darkness aside and explores fear and facing challenges from a positive perspective. This could be Phish’s pop masterpiece, honestly. The backing vocals are gorgeous, the melody is strong and simple and the message clear as a bell. This is exactly the sort of song Phish fans love to hate but it’s really a great pop song and I can’t help but like it.

“Monica” is an unstoppably catchy earworm with call-and-response vocals that will bounce around in your head for an hour after you hear it. Fortunately, it completely lacks in awfulness. They performed it in a stripped down setup with Trey on acoustic, Mike on an upright bass, Fishman on a stripped down kit, and Page on a simplified keyboard setup. “Waiting All Night” has a bit more of the call-and-response but this time in the electrified, full setup with Trey’s solos gliding beautifully across the mix. It’s a simple song but pretty and a definite keeper with lots of potential.


Phish in Hampton 2013

Hampton by Andrea Nusinov @andreanusinov Buy Prints

Hampton by Andrea Nusinov @andreanusinov
Buy Prints

I walked away from Phish after a show at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2010. I wasn’t disgusted or offended by their playing or whatever faults I might have perceived in the band, I just wasn’t having as much fun. So I stopped attending shows and listened to fewer and fewer of their current recordings. Then, over this past Summer, something changed. The band was exuding the playfulness that I wanted once again. Maybe it was me; maybe not. But it’s not just about jamming or silly gags onstage, it’s about energy. While the band has clearly been enjoying themselves all along, they had stopped transmitting on my frequency. This past Summer, that changed.

Then they announced a run of shows at the Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia and I knew it was time.

Coming about a week after the 19th anniversary of my very first Phish show, these would be my first shows in more than two years when the band returned to . The venue has been a part of my musical life since the early 90s and part of my life’s scenery as far back as I can remember due to growing up in region. It was good to be back to both the band and the room.
(Click here if you want to skip to the summary. I’ll eventually forgive you.)

Night One (Friday, October 18, 2013):

A lovely day for a drive through Virginia and soon enough we’re checked into the hotel and on the lot in Hampton. We met a few friends and went in early enough to grab a great spot, on the rail, just behind Page. From here could see everything that he did, most of what Fish did and every bit of Trey’s turning and geeking out on Page’s solos. The latter happened frequently throughout the evening.

“Wolfman’s Brother” opened strong and got right down to rockin’ and “Runaway Jim” hinted at the band’s eagerness to jam when they stretched it slightly before the first big peak. “Mound” was a particular treat because I’ve somehow managed to not see it since the Summer of ’95. “Chalk Dust Torture” followed, bringing back the rock, and Page gave us a breather with his rather personal sounding ballad, “Army Of One”. The band picked things right back up a bluegrass number, “Nelly Kane”, and then dove into “Stash”. (more…)

Happy Birthday, Jerry

It’s Jerry’s birthday. He would have turned 71 today.

I made this mix a while back and have just posted it to youtube for your streaming pleasure. It’s a seamless 76minute “Playing In The Band”.


Still miss him.


Mid-Year Music Roundup

It’s June and high time I let you know what awesome albums I’ve been listening to so far this year. There’s a soundcloud thingy featuring some of these artists streaming after jump.

Akron/Family – Sub Verses (Dead Oceans – DOC078)

These guys continue to grow and put out compelling records. If you caught them on tour this spring you heard much looser versions of this tightly arranged record that still manages to sound like it could fly apart at the seams on some of the wilder cuts. This is a dynamic trio that is constantly pulling in three directions. That tension and diversity makes for a fascinating tug-of-war that makes for a compelling listen.

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks (Woodsist – 068)
Jangly pop hooks blended with folk, psych, long gone indie sounds, and earnest lyrics make this one of my favorites for the year (so far.) Bleeker has stepped away from Real Estate to deliver an album that sounds nothing like his day job.

White Fence – Cyclops Reap (Castle Face – CF-019)
More White Fence! Tim Presley seems to be on a mission to release as many albums as is humanly possible (Pretty sure Ty Segall is going to take that title.) Here we have another collection of self-recorded garage psych-pop songs that fit neatly in the Barrett/Kinks/Nuggets crossroads. If you like bent guitars, tape warble, unpredictable but undeniable hooks, you need this record. (more…)

2012 Album Roundup

2012 LPs

Many of my 2012 LPs

I give up.

I’ve been thinking about the inevitable year-end top whatever list of albums for more than a month now. Countless records have found their way across the turntable or into my phone for listening on the train and some have risen to the top and others aren’t even a blip. But so many of them are just too good to rank, dismiss, or inadvertently diminish by stacking it above (or below) some other great album. The real message that bears conveying is that I’ve listened to a lot of great music this year and, while some of it was new in 2012, some of it dates well back to the past.

In keeping with the spirit of things I’ll limit this post to great things that came out in 2012 but stay tuned for more on those other things that have been occupying my ears in an upcoming post. (more…)

Jason Lytle – Dept. Of Disappearance

Dept. Of Disappearance

When Jason Lytle broke up his band, Grandaddy, in 2006 he wanted to get away from music, California, and more. But he couldn’t stay away for long and, in 2009, he gave us the beautiful album, Yours Truly, The Commuter which actually landed on the top spot of my 2009 year-end list. Since then, he’s collaborated with members of Earlimart on Admiral Radley, briefly reunited with Grandaddy earlier this year, and now has delivered another beautiful solo album, Dept. Of Disappearance.

Opening with cassette tape test tones from the 80′s the title cut sounds right at home with Lytle’s earlier work. The synths wash, guitars crunch in with the rhythm section, and the soft-sung vocals flow atop the mix with lyrics that blend paranoia, aggression, and mystery. His grasp of melody and densely layered harmonies is instantly on show here and throughout the record. (more…)

Moon Duo – Circles

Moon Duo – Circles

When I first put on the new Moon Duo record, I expected drones, grooves, and fuzz. It’s those things that I love about their previous two albums (and numerous EPs) so they felt like reasonable expectations. With Circles, I got all of those and a surprising bit more. Guitarist Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips) and keyboardist Sanae Yamada, have crafted groovy, shadowy, pop songs from their signature elements and the results hang together in a strong, engaging, album.

The record kicks off with “Sleepwalker” (check it out below in the amusing official video.) Bright, yet distorted, ribbons of  guitar wash through the sharp buzzsaw synth while the groove drives straight into space. There’s clear overtones of 60′s garage pop here; filtered, perhaps, through Spacemen 3. “I Can See” is dark and creepy with its kraut-like rhythm and spiraling, spidery, guitar solo. By contrast, the title track might be the least dark of the nine tracks here. These aren’t just instrumental grooves, either. These are songs and, while the lyrics don’t always pop through the mix, they drive the changes and contain memorable hooks. (more…)

Matthew White – Big Inner

I know you can’t help
That your smile is the brightest
It’s hard to look away

That (almost) haiku that opens Big Inner, the debut release for Richmond, VA band leader, composer, and beard enthusiast, Matthew E. White. The beard thing is, of course, a joke, but the rest is serious business. Founder and composer for the Richmond collective, Fight The Big Bull, Smith has stepped out in front with this album and may find that people won’t want him to simply direct from behind anymore.

My Copy of Big Inner

Those lyrics kick off the slow swaying opening cut, “One Of These Days” which seems, at first, to be a simple soul number. When White begins humming what may be the second half of the verse, one might mistakenly think he’s already out of ideas. But then the horns swell into the mix, the refrain comes along and dammit if there isn’t a haunting choir on the bridge. Before the tune ends there’s even some strings.

Deceptively simple might be the trademark of this album. Judicious mixing keeps so much at bay that would probably overwhelm a listener if White simply pushed up the faders. This is true of many albums but, on Big Inner, many of the tracks are busting at the seams with horns, strings, an excellent rhythm section, straight ahead soul backing vocals, a full on choir and more. “Big Love” pushes more of these out front as the driving tempo is built to carry the bombast. It starts with a (baritone?) sax bleating in the distance before the groove engages and is followed by White’s soft spoken vocals. Two minutes in, the cut reaches the feverish pitch of backing vocals, strings, and hand claps that is the refrain. Then comes the break down. White is smooth and convincing as he declares:

Girl, I am a barracuda
I am a hurricane

I believe this sort of thing used to be called “blue-eyed soul”. I don’t know what color White’s eyes may be but he’s definitely got some soul. His voice breaks slightly as he sings “Darkness can’t drive out darkness. Only love can do that,” on Jimmy Cliff’s “Will You Love Me.” And, as the band rises up behind him, you know that the vocals are sincere. (more…)