Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ingrid Michaelson at the Troubadour

Closing out her North American tour, singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson headed to the Troubadour for the first to two sold out shows in Los Angeles. I’ve seen her live before, but after this performance, I have made myself a solemn vow to see her in concert every time she comes to LA. This girl puts on a hell of a show. She is a consummate entertainer, to say the least, and left me with a perma-smile on my face the entire night.

Shortly after 10:15pm, the band entered to Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” and started playing their version of the song. Immediately following the cover, Ingrid went right into her song “Soldier” (off her current album, “Everybody”). After a bit of ukulele trouble, she moved over to her keyboard to perform an older song, “Breakable.” After sharing a story of how Leann Rimes quoted her lyrics on Twitter, she busted out in to a short little ditty, appropriately titled “Famous People Know Who I Am” then dedicated the bubbly sounding, but lyrically heartbreaking “Once Was Love” to none other than Leann Rimes.

Then came time for “Die Alone” - her obligatory ‘happy song’ (as she called it). Don’t let the title fool you, it really is a song about hope in finding true love and realizing that maybe you won’t die alone. See? Happy song! With the ukulele problem now solved, it was audience participation time where we all sang back the chorus to “Mountain and the Sea.”

During the fun and catchy love long, “You and I,” each band member got to sing a little line and everyone joined in on the foot-stomping and hand-clapping at the end. After that, Ingrid was left alone on stage to regale the audience with her story of meeting R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, then proceeded to make my heart nearly explode with delight when she covered my favorite R.E.M. song, “Nightswimming.” It was a remarkable a capella rendition using a looping pedal to record her voice harmonizing the melody as she sang the lyrics over it. The entire crowd was captivated, even the ones who had never heard the song before.

After throwing in some new tunes, including “Annihilate” (which is a pending title) and her current single, “Parachute,” she began to sing one of my favorites: “The Chain.” At this point, I’d like to take a moment to really convey exactly how insanely good her vocals are. This girl has got chops. I’m really not a fan of that expression, but there’s really no other way to put it. Her vocal prowess is top notch. During “The Chain,” her voice filled the entire room, with Allie Moss and Bess Rogers singing the backing vocals in a round.

Learning her lesson the hard way in previous shows, she knows now never to play ‘the hit song’ first for those who just came to hear that one song. Her big hit, “The Way I Am” came about an hour into the show followed by another hit, “Maybe” (which is the song that takes me days to get out of my head once I’ve heard it.) I don’t think her fans could have asked for a better closing number than Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which came complete with synchronized line-dancing and a fun little cheer-type pyramid at the end. While I love her original songs, I always look forward to seeing her live just to hear her cover songs, whether it’s Radiohead’s “Creep,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” or the theme song to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

Instead of doing the traditional “run off stage and come back on two minutes later for the encore,” Ingrid and the band opted to simply have the lights go down and they each found a hiding spot on stage until the audience applause grew to deafening heights, waiting for an encore. We were all very pleased with her playing “Be OK” and then she got us all dancing around to a raucous, punk rock version of “The Way I Am.” She covered her own song and made it even more awesome than it was…if that’s possible.

She had the crowd laughing and singing all night and we all hung on to every word of her little anecdotes, not wanting her witty badinage to end. But I was lucky enough to get to meet and talk to her after the show. She's an absolute sweetheart. Her tour may have come to an end, but she does have four dates in Australia later this month. In the meantime, while you’re waiting for her to come back around to your city, be sure to download her current single, “Parachute.”

The Magic of TayTay

So, if you haven’t heard by now, Taylor Swift sings about the people in her life, and her exes in particular. Yes, some are famous. Yes, she doesn’t hold back. And yes, she’s done it in the past and she’ll continue to do so in the future. We can speculate all we which song is about what guy, but that would just overshadow the album itself, wouldn’t it? So let’s just put that aside and focus on Taylor’s music and impeccable songwriting.

At 16, Taylor broke ground with her sweet and mellow hit song, “Tim McGraw.” That’s when I first took notice of her. As a country artist, she definitely had what it took to maintain staying power. I knew she’d be going places, but I never imagined how huge she would become until I heard 2008’s “Love Story.” When a teenage girl can write a song that even my sixteen-year-old nephew (who is considered, by all definitions, a “jock”) likes to belt out, then obviously Taylor knows she’s struck a golden chord. Now nearly 21, Taylor continues to mature and grow into her role as prolific songwriter with the release of her third disc, “Speak Now,” an album that speaks volumes about heartache and regret. And Taylor, we’re listening.

“Mine” is the first single and the song that kicks off the album. A warm and lighthearted love song, it reached number 3 on Billboard Hot 100, making Swift the second female artist in the history (along with Mariah Carey) to debut multiple tracks in the top five during a calendar year – not an easy feat.

“Back to December” reminds us that we all have regrets, even Taylor. She’s usually the one who’s scorned, but in this number, she’s the one who made a mistake, and now wants to assuage the situation. We see a different side of Taylor in the title track “Speak Now,” in which she breaks up a wedding, claiming the guy deserves better than the girl he’s about to marry. The song contains one of her secret messages in her liner notes stating, “You always regret what you don’t say.”

As for “Mean,” this song is country through and through, complete with the twang of a banjo and the use of hand clapping as percussion, while “The Story of Us” leaves no metaphor left unturned as she describes the demise of a once perfect relationship.

“Innocent,” as we all know from Taylor’s VMA performance, is the “Kanye” song. Cleverly, her secret message in the liner notes for this song is: ‘Life is full of little interruptions.’ Regardless of the subject matter, it’s still a really affecting song. Making mistakes and having regrets seems to be a common theme on the album.
The claws come out on “Better Than Revenge,” which is a lot of fun lyrically with Taylor singing “…she’s an actress, but she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress…She thinks I’m psycho ‘cause I like to rhyme her name with things…no amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity.”

“Last Kiss” is heartbreaking ballad that focuses on the little details of a broken relationship, as opposed to the big milestones. It paints a vivid picture we can all relate to. At one point or another, we’ve all been crying on the floor, lamenting on what was and could have been.

There is not one ancillary song on the album and in spite of some of the more serious tracks, it’s clear that she knows how to have some fun. The album really does read as a diary put to music, which is excellent. So many great songs are based on personal, real-life experiences. The important thing to remember is to include your listeners by making it something they can relate to and avoid making it too self-indulgent. By not specifically naming names, Taylor pulls this task off very well. Having been a fan from the beginning, I’m glad to see she’s only getting better and better. And despite being in my late 20’s, I too find myself sometimes grabbing a hairbrush and singing along to Taylor. It can’t be helped. And I know I’m not the only one who’s done it, so no judging. That’s just my point. She reaches a wide variety of people and has a diverse audience, which bodes very well for the future of this talented young lady.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kings of Leon - "Come Around Sundown"

It’s hard to believe it has been two years already since Kings of Leon’s highly successful breakout album, “Only By the Night,” was released. Songs from that album are still reverberating all over radio. Now brothers Caleb, Nathan, and Jared, along with cousin Matthew, are releasing “Come Around Sundown” — their fifth studio album. I think one question on everyone’s mind is: Can it compare to 2008’s commercial juggernaut? Well, I am lucky enough to have heard the new album already… and I have the answer: Who cares?

The album is a strong and unyielding endeavor. If you’re looking for the “Use Somebody” Kings that shot to uber-stardom with their last album, you might be a bit disappointed. Parts of it are there, but it’s very understated and I don’t want to make comparisons because they sound different with each progressing album. This is one of those bands that I love to see explore new sounds because they can do so much experimentation and still sound incredible.

The album kicks off with “The End.” With a transcendent bass line, the brooding song has almost a Killers(-ish) sound to it. The first single off the album, “Radioactive,” is a thrashy, riotous number with a fuzzy guitar sound, complete with falsetto backup vocals.The backing falsetto continues on “Mary,” a song that holds a steady beat as Caleb pledges, “No I won’t, never once, make you cry / Just to kiss, how I’ll miss your goodbye.”

Several songs pay homage to the band’s home state of Tennessee. “The Face” suggests, “If you give up New York, I’ll give you Tennessee, the only place to be.” The tribute to their roots continues with the southern anthem, “Back Down South.” With a country tinge and a hint of steel guitar, it’s a mesmerizing song, highlighted by Caleb’s lackadaisical singing. The juxtaposition works great. While on the surface, they are singing about the south, upon closer examination of the lyrics, the song could also simply be construed as another “Sex On Fire,” as the descriptive imagery suggests. I love the double meaning behind their words!

“Birthday” is a good-time drinking song all about taking someone home and “Fallin’ and laughin’ at the drinks we spilled / Just one of those nights that I had to share.” As for “Mi Amigo,” I have a hard time trying to figure out if he’s being literal or if what he’s singing about is symbolic of something else. It’s hard to tell, but it’s a fun song, nonetheless. The album closes with “Pickup Truck,” an intensely passionate track that alludes to getting caught having an affair.

Lead singer Caleb Followill’s soulful, raspy voice echoes through the entire album and if you’re a longtime Kings fan, you’ll notice “Come Around Sundown” evokes some elements of their earlier albums, “Aha Shake Heartbreak” and “Because of the Times.” Still, this album also propels them forward into a new realm. It’s a little more subdued than strident, focusing more on the laid-back, meandering musicianship and thought-provoking words. It’s a solid effort and a great album to listen to whether you’re at the gym, on a road trip or if you just want to unwind.

Paramore/Tegan and Sara concert

Me w/ Tegan and Sara (or Sara and Tegan if we're going from left to right)

Pop rock, chick rock, punk-pop rock, alternative rock… however you want to categorize Paramore, the operative word here is: rock. And what I witnessed at the Honda Center in Anaheim this past Sunday was a genuine rock show in every sense of the word. These guys really know how to put on an entertaining concert — full of energy, pyrotechnics, and even a little head banging. But I’ll get to that in a minute…

The Anaheim show was the very last night of the 2010 Honda Civic Tour. Kicking off the night in this four-band event was Kadawatha, who was then followed by New Found Glory. As an old school NFG fan, I was pleasantly surprised and glad to see that they’re still touring and going strong as a band. Their set was short but memorable and even included their cover of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” and they surprised the crowd by bringing out Paramore’s Hayley Williams for their song “Vegas.”

After New Found Glory, one of my all-time favorite musical acts, Tegan and Sara, took the stage. This was my sixth time seeing them in concert and I truly never tire of seeing them. Usually, their music comes across much better in a smaller, more intimate venue, but they sounded GREAT in the arena! It just so happened to be the twin sisters’ 30th birthday and they celebrated it with perfection as they opened their set with “Living Room,” leading straight into “I Bet It Stung,” followed by “The Con.” When they started playing “Walking With a Ghost,” things took a comical turn when people dressed in sheets came out on stage as ghosts and started dancing around.

After performing more of their old favorites, like “So Jealous” and “Where Does the Good Go?” the twins played some stuff off their current album, “Sainthood.” Meanwhile, I was loving every minute of it because this arena was filled with nearly 15,000 screaming fans waiting to see Paramore and those who hadn’t heard of Tegan and Sara before were getting a lesson in how great they really are. Of course, many were there to see Tegan and Sara as well, but I think it’s safe to say these girls will now have a lot more fans thanks to this tour. After closing yet another fun and perfectly executed set with “Hop A Plane,” the ladies left the stage following an erupting applause.

And now to the main event — I’ve been a fan of Paramore for a couple of years now, but this was my first time seeing them in concert, so needless to say, I was pretty excited to see what was in store. The music started with the band behind a curtain. After only seeing their silhouettes for a few minutes, the curtain finally dropped and they opened with “Ignorance.” I was immediately sucked in. After “No Sympathy,” the band had everyone (including me) singing and dancing along to “That’s What You Get.”

Hayley Williams is the ultimate frontwoman: charismatic, engaging, and fun with a powerhouse voice. Donning a Girl Scout sash, she was full of energy, running around on stage and head banging to a point where I had to question how many Red Bulls she had consumed. This girl must run daily marathons uphill while singing. How else could she have this much energy and be able to sing like that while being so active on stage? But I guess that’s just how talented she and the rest of the band are. They made it very clear how grateful they were to all their fans and made this show worth the fans’ while.

After sending the audience into a frenzy performing “Decode,” the band paid tribute to their roots. Having formed in Tennessee (the country music capital) Hayley busted out a rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man.”

For the acoustic part of their set, Hayley and the boys (lead guitarist Josh Farro, drummer Zac Farro, bass player Jeremy Davis, and rhythm guitarist Taylor York) were sitting on and gathered around a stylish red couch playing their songs campfire-style. During the acoustic portion, they dedicated the song “Overlap” to all their fans and ended with “Misguided Ghosts,” before taking a brief break.

Upon returning, they kept the nonstop energy up and had everyone in the arena on their feet for “Crushcrushcrush” and then slowed things down a bit with their current hit “The Only Exception.” This is where my one complaint about the show comes in (and it had nothing to do with the band at all). This song is the typical “Bic lighter” song where everyone holds up a lighter and sways back and forth, which is great. It’s tradition. Every great band has at least one of these songs. And maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I was bothered by everyone (and I mean everyone) using their cell phones instead of a lighter. Or using their “lighter app” on their iPhone, which is just a poor substitute. It distracted me.

For that matter, I was also distracted by every third person constantly holding up their video cameras throughout the entire show. I find this happening more and more with every concert I attend. Maybe I’m being too picky, but doesn’t it take away from the concert experience by watching the whole show through a tiny screen on your camera? A word of advice to all concert-goers: just take a few pictures and maybe film them singing your favorite song, and then put the technology away and just be in the moment. Be there with your favorite band and experience it with them. The memory of it will be far more effective than a grainy video taken from 200 feet away. It’ll also be less distracting to the people around you. Sorry for the tangent… I just had to vent for a minute.

Now, back to the show. After leaving the stage, the crowd was clamoring for more and Paramore gave us exactly what we wanted. For their encore, they began with “Brick By Boring Brick” and followed that up with their very first hit, “Misery Business,” which is what closed out the night along with sparklers and falling confetti. None of this, however, before making one lucky fan’s entire year by inviting him up on stage to sing with the band. Seeing as how he said he had seen them in concert 21 times and it’s pretty much everyone’s dream to be pulled up on stage by their favorite band, I’m assuming he can cross this off his bucket list and will probably never want for anything again.

It may have been my first time seeing Paramore in concert, but after an explosive and lively show like this, it definitely won’t be my last. Their touring continues overseas in October starting in New Zealand, but I’m hoping they’ll make it back to the states soon.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Interview with Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice

Me and J.Lew I got to interview THE goddess of music, my favorite singer, ruler of my iPod and biggest musical inspiration, Jenny Lewis. Cross that one off the bucket list.

After two previous solo albums under each of their belts, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice have finally decided to join forces on a full-length alum entitled “I’m Having Fun Now.” I, for one, could not be more excited. Each of them is an established artist in their own right. Jenny Lewis (who happens to be my favorite singer) is the lead singer/frontwoman of beloved, semi-defunct, LA band Rilo Kiley and she also earned critical praise on her two solo albums, “Rabbit Fur Coat” and “Acid Tongue.” Virginia-bred Johnathan Rice brought his Dylan-esque attitude to his past solo albums, “Trouble Is Real” and “Further North.” After previously collaborating on each other’s records, they’re taking it to the next level performing as Jenny and Johnny.

I had the incredible opportunity to interview Jenny and Johnny about their new album and asked the real-life couple about the collaboration process.

Johnny: “We've developed a pretty easy working relationship. For this album, anyway. There were no Fleetwood Mac levels of strife.”Jenny: “It wasn't fraught, but I think the more you play music, the more you learn the language of music and being able to express what you hear. It's one thing to hear it, it's one thing to play it, but I think you have to be able to communicate what you want. With this, we worked with Pierre de Reeder from Rilo Kiley and he is very open. So, we were actually able to get our hands on the controls in the studios, plug stuff in, where in the past it was a little more hands off.”

The finished product is pretty extraordinary. This is a fun album (as the title so aptly states)! Serpents, sharp shiny objects, withering relationships, and the seemingly unending recession are all motifs thoroughly explored and exposed on the eleven-track collection. The laid back and upbeat sound is juxtaposed with the lyrics, which offer a more dark, brooding, ominous tone. When I asked if they were going for a specific sound on the album, Johnny told me, “I think the sound kind of emerged into its own thing. We didn't want to make something that sounded like it was from another time. We wanted it to sound like it was from right now.”
“Right now via the ‘90s rather than the ‘60s,” Jenny added.

Some songs on the album have a kind of beach-feeling sound to them. The kick-off single, “Scissor Runner,” and the catchy and relatable “Big Wave” (which is all about lack of money and self-medicating) are prime examples of that. Johnny explains, “We made a concerted effort to spend much more time at the beach because this is the most time that we've had off. We spent a lot of it at the beach.”

“Renting bikes,” Jenny added. “We had actually gone bike riding in Venice. And I actually have a tan for the first time since I was in ‘The Wizard’” (alluding to her fair skin and her acting past).

The album is full of memorable tracks. “Switchblade” is all about what happens when you go from being broke to finally getting some money in your pocket with lines like, “It was poverty that kept you sweet / And dreams that kept you young. The money started rolling in / You stopped having any fun.”

“My Pet Snakes” is a thrashy, beat-laden number about a conflicted relationship (whether personal or professional). Once the NRE (new relationship energy) is over, what comes next? Do you stay and keep at it or do you bail? While in “New Yorker Cartoon,” we’re taken for an acid trip of a ride complete with vampire bats and saluting paper bags. “Committed” is a song I appreciate for personal reasons. Being a huge Michael Jackson fan, I got a kick out of the line, “For God and for country, for Michael Jackson’s monkey…” -- an homage to the singer and his chimp, Bubbles.

“I’m Having Fun Now” is transcendent, reaching every level of emotion, making it easy to listen to no matter what kind of mood you’re in. Johnny (sporting a spiffy new haircut as a result of losing a bet) easily blends his raspy, growling voice in with Jenny’s hypnotic, rich, honeyed vocals.

The two of them have the ability to create something beautiful. Their personal relationship is balanced perfectly with their professional relationship as they both seem to have genuine respect for each other’s work. I asked what Jenny’s favorite Johnathan Rice song was. “Animal,” she responded. “But it’s hard because songs change... your perception of them.” And Johnny’s favorite Jenny song? “Silver Lining.”

Working with each other hasn’t stopped them from branching out and working with other people. I asked them whom they would love to collaborate with the most.

Johnny: “We’ve both been so lucky and serendipitous. I feel like we'll probably get to collaborate we everyone we want to. Almost. Jenny has sung with Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, all these great artists… and it all happens very naturally and beautifully and you couldn't ask for anything more, really.” Jenny: “Well, when you get a chance to work with Elvis Costello, at that point you’re kind of like ‘OK.’ But actually, I'm a fan of collaborating with people who are just kind of beginning their musical careers in a way. I love working with women who are just starting to embark on that journey. It's always great to have a bunch of girls in my band that are on their first tour. Like the [Watson] twins when we toured “Rabbit Fur Coat,” it was so much fun.”

As for Jenny’s band, Rilo Kiley, many are wondering what will become of the cherished group. I asked Jenny if I witnessed the very last Rilo Kiley concert at the Greek two years ago, or if they had something in the works. She told me, “I don't know. I know we don't have any plans to make a new record right now but we are putting together a compilation of B-sides and rarities, which is taking a bit longer than we originally expected, so we're hanging out and compiling a bunch of stuff. So, we'll see what happens with that.”

Jenny and Johnny kicked off their tour in Jenny’s native Los Angeles on Sunday night at Three Clubs in Hollywood to a crowd of about 200. The intimate show is just the first of many over the next few months. I asked them what is their favorite city to which to play. Jenny loves playing in Los Angeles and Austin, while Johnny likes D.C. and Chapel Hill.

Be sure to catch them on tour in your city! If it’s anything like Sunday night’s show, you’re in for a great time with artists who genuinely love what they do.

5 Quick Questions with Jenny and Johnny:

What is the song that made you want to become a musician?
Jenny: “Pass the Dutchie.”
Johnny: “ ‘Cinnamon Girl’ by Neil Young and Crazy Horse.”

What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Johnny: “Sleeping when everyone else has to work.”
Jenny: “I don't really have any guilty pleasures…Mum's the word.”

Something you want to try that you’ve never tried before?
Jenny: “Uni. Sea Urchin. It looks so gross.”

Favorite location to get away from it all?
Johnny: “Big Sur”
Jenny: “The back yard.”

What is the one thing you can’t live without on tour?
Jenny: “A soft pillow.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

April Smith and the Great Picture Show

It’s rather uncommon for an opening act to not only catch, but also hold my interest. The only other times I can recall this happening was when Patty Griffin (now one of my favorites) opened for the Dixie Chicks in 1999 and when a young, unknown singer by the name of Celine Dion opened for Michael Bolton in 1992. Yes, I just admitted I went to a Michael Bolton concert. Don’t judge. It was my first concert ever and I rather enjoyed it, even though my taste in music has changed dramatically since then.

That being said, I recently caught Jenny Owen Youngs at Hotel Café in Hollywood where the opening act was April Smith and the Great Picture Show. I had never heard of them before, but after five minutes of their performance, I had to ask myself WHY I hadn’t heard of them before. They were incredible. Fun, catchy, lively and loud. And even – dare I say? – a little Rilo Kiley-esque with a vintage flair.

If you haven’t heard of April Smith and the Great Picture Show yet, I suggest you jump on the bandwagon. Their song, “Terrible Things” is currently being used in the season six promo for Showtime’s “Weeds.” Their fan-funded new album, “Songs for a Sinking Ship” is full of ‘30s and ‘40s inspired music fused with jazzy vocals. Smith can’t be much more than five feet tall and 100 pounds, but when she hits the power notes, it’s hard to believe that such a fiery, growling voice can come out of that little frame!

The album kicks off on a high note with “Movie Loves a Screen,” which is full of energetic beats. “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is the best premise for a song I’ve heard in a long time. It’s all about dating someone who is devastatingly good-looking, but lacks the brains to even carry on a conversation: “Oh you’re so enchanting when your mouth closed/And with a mouth like that, who needs politics and prose?”

In “Colors” (my personal favorite on the album) Smith seemingly evokes the likes of Patsy Cline while singing “I’ll wear your colors my dear until you’re standing right here/Next to the one who adores you, whose heart is beating for you.” The album takes a somber turn during the heartbreakingly poignant “Beloved.” Smith’s dynamic vocals are paralyzing in this deeply affecting, morose number. “Stop Wondering” features a playful piano as she flirtatiously muses about emphatically telling her ex that she is absolutely not thinking of him, even throwing in a comedic “B*tch, please!”

The modern and quirky lyrics paired with nostalgic, old-fashioned melodies make for a musical genre rarely heard these days. “Songs for a Sinking Ship” could also be called “Songs You Want to Sing Along With” or “Songs You Want To Dance To” or even “Songs That Can Bridge the Generational Music Gap.” I can’t wait to see them live again and I’m curious to see what they do next.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lyrics of the Day/The Genius of Taylor Swift

My lyrics choice for the day:
"Romeo save me, they're trying to tell me how to feel
This love is difficult, but it's real.
Don't be afraid, we'll make it out of this mess,
It's a love story, baby just say yes."

Okay, let's talk about Taylor Swift for a moment, shall we? The first time I heard her first single, "Tim McGraw," I had a gut feeling this girl was gonna go places. Imagine my surprise when I learned she was only 17 at the time! Then came "Teardrops on My Guitar" and "Our Song" and I knew this was not the last we'd be hearing from Ms. Swift. She was a huge hit in the world of country music and had infinite potential to cross over, but I never thought that, when it happened, it would be this huge. Sold out arenas, a number one album ("Fearless"), several top 20 hits...the list goes on and on. What is it about Taylor Swift that makes her so relatable? Just listen to her lyrics and there's your answer. They are simple and sweet and every young girl at one point or another has felt exactly what Taylor sings about. Love, heartbreak, friends, growing up, revenge on a not-so-nice ex. It's all there.
And it makes me wonder how different my life would be if Taylor Swift had been around when I was in high school. That would have been...for lack of a better word...AWSOME. I would have had an anthem for every emotion I was feeling. Every broken heart I suffered, every teen angsty feeling I had, every regret, every mistake I made, every new relationship...I would have had words to convey it all. "You Belong With Me" is the ultimate unrequieted love song. "Love Story" is the ulitmate forbidden love song (to which i can actually equate my current relationship to). "The Way I Loved You" is the ultimate song about an intense, passionate romance gone wrong that you sometimes still long for. And "Fifteen"...that is the ultimate 'high school sucks, so i'm just going to get through it the best i can' song. I love it. I love it all. It brings out the teenager in me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh JOY. How I love thee.

June 17th brought the promise of JOY! It was 2 days before my birthday and Jenny Owen Youngs gave the perfect gift by finally coming back to LA to perform at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. If you haven’t heard of her, perhaps you didn’t read my past reviews on her album “Transmitter Failure” and her side project “Bell Horses.” Well, if you’re reading this review, then I can’t stress enough what a talent this young woman is. If you’re a fan of catchy melodies, impeccably relatable lyrics, clever metaphors and a biting wit, then you’ll love Jenny Owen Youngs.

The last time I saw her at Hotel Cafe, she performed with a full band. This time it was a much more stripped down performance, but it still had the three things that make a great concert: A girl, a guitar, and a stage. That’s all I really need.

Her acoustic guitar-playing was occasionally joined on stage by Brad Gordon who played, as Jenny calls them “the key plank and the stringy paddle.”

The Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Youngs opened with “Secrets,” slowing down the normally up-tempo song to a pace more similar to the version on her “Last Person” EP (available now). The slow and sweet “Voice on Tape,” from her first album, “Batten the Hatches,” then followed.
There is no shortage of vulnerability in her songs and “Here is a Heart” is the ultimate example of that. She had me hanging on to every note and every word. I think the small, intimate venue helped with that.

And then it was time for something new! As I often say, it’s always the best part of a show when an artist dares to impress the audience with a new song. She did not disappoint. Fun and playful with just a hint of self-loathing, she cleverly sang, “Let’s go to your place, ‘cause I’ve got a roommate….” As her self-proclaimed “overshare song,” she sang about the fact that you know this person is bad for you, but being with them “beats the hurt.” Jenny, you must record this soon!

After closing with “Last Person” (a song I can’t help but dance to every time it comes on…no matter where I am), I was a little saddened about the fact that there was no encore. The only downside to this show is that it wasn’t long enough. Forty-five minutes simply isn’t enough time for JOY, but then again, neither is two hours. I guess I’m hard to please in that sense because I could listen to my favorite singers perform for ten hours straight. For the most part, she seemed to just want everyone to have a fun, laid-back time. She succeeded.

The best part of the night was getting to talk to her after the show when she remembered me from her last show in LA. Plus, it's always fun to know one of my favorite singers is a fellow "Buffy" fan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'90s Nostalgia: Jewel's New Album Takes Us Back

Jewel is back. Well, she never really left, but after 2008’s country album, “Perfectly Clear” and last year’s album of lullabies, Jewel returns to form with her new album “Sweet and Wild.” While it is a follow-up country album, she is also releasing a companion cd called “Sweet and Mild” that consists of exactly the same songs, but it’s the Jewel I prefer as it is all acoustic tracks which are demos that were recorded in her home.

If you prefer her country sound, you can purchase “Sweet and Wild” on its own, but if you’re like me and you like the Jewel from her “Pieces of You” days, I recommend picking up the deluxe album which includes “Sweet and Mild” – the 11 tracks stripped down with just her and a guitar.

The two tracks that stand out the most on this album are “What You Are” and “Ten.” In “What You Are,” Jewel, being the ever-consummate poet, turns her words to music in this melodic number about celebrating and accepting who you are without questioning it. “Ten” is one of the songs I actually prefer in country music format on the “Sweet and Wild” album because it is a true country song at its core. Easily relatable, it’s about getting into a fight or argument and just stepping back and counting to ten before you take it any further and create regrets.
In her eighth studio album and her second in the country music genre, on the “Mild” disc, Jewel finds her voice in a collection of songs reminiscent of her debut fifteen years ago. In “Wild,” she employs a country twang no doubt partly inspired by her life with husband, Ty Murray, living on their ranch in Texas. With a voice like hers, it’s pretty safe to say that no matter what sound or genre she’s experimenting with, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad Jewel album.’ “Sweet and Wild” is yet another example of that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Patty Griffin at the Wiltern

Ahhh Patty, we meet again. I saw Patty Griffin at the Wiltern in Los Angeles three years ago when she was promoting her 2007 album, ''Children Running Through". I love these kinds of reunions, reuniting with my favorite artists at venues I've seen them at previously. Patty is currently touring the country promoting her new album, "Downtown Church" and stopped at the Wiltern along the way to give her Los Angeles fans an incredible show. The songs from her new gospel-influenced album were heavily featured throughout the show, but the religious overtones certainly didn't distract from the actual performance. By that, I'm mainly referring to Patty's singing. I think I can safely say she is THE voice. I have yet to find another singer whose voice is so soulful, stirring, impassioned and abundantly rich. There are simply not enough words to describe this woman's voice, so you're just going to have to trust me on this and listen to her music.

Before her set, she warmed up that unmatched vocal instrument by joining her opening act, Buddy Miller (who produced her new album) on stage to sing a few songs with him. After his set was over, following a brief intermission, Patty came out in full force, ready for her audience to experience something truly cathartic. Opening with "Standing", I knew this was going to be a laidback, mellow, and at times, emotional night of good times and good tunes. I was glad to hear her perform my two favorites from her new album, "Coming Home to Me" and "Little Fire." When introducing her song, "Heavenly Day", she explained that she considers it the only real, legitimate love song she's written...and it just so happens to be about her dog. Who knew? (Which makes me wonder why she doesn't consider her brilliant, sweet song "When It Don't Come Easy" a love song, but I guess that’s another story).

Then, it was time for something new. I love this part. I'm always eager to hear new songs at a concert. An unreleased, unrecorded song she had recently written, sung from the point of view of her grandfather. The hilariously adorable song called "Get Ready Marie" had the audience roaring with laughter as the lyrics alluded to the fact that men only have one thing on their minds and if it takes getting married to get it, then so be it. (Patty, please record this one asap!)

While the majority of the show was mainly focused on the songs from "Downtown Church", she offered up some songs from past albums, all religiously themed. "Mary", from her "Flaming Red" album, is the poignantly sad story revolving around Mary's state of mind in the aftermath of the death of Jesus and her gospel-inspired "Up to the Mountain" was inspired by the trials and tribulations of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was hoping she would perform "Moses" from her debut album in keeping with the religious theme of the night, but sadly that didn't happen. She was rather conservative with her more popular songs, opting to close out the show with more gospel-laden tunes. Yes, I was a little disappointed about that, but in the end I decided it was just fine because she was doing exactly what she wanted to do and sharing the songs she wanted to share. And we in the audience loved it all.

The best part of the night? The dancing! Patty didn't go near her keyboard the entire night, which was rather surprising, but I guess it meant that she wanted to stay standing because she was there to groove and had a grand old time doing so by dancing along to her more jazzy numbers.

Now, back to the voice. After singing so powerfully for nearly two hours, and closing her main set with the uplifting “We Shall All Be Reunited”, it just astounded me that she had the voice to belt out three more songs during her encore. Simple incredible. And so comes my least favorite part of any concert: the end. It was a wonderfully moving show, though, and I'm hoping she makes her way back here at least one more time on her tour.

Lyrics of the Day

The sky looks pissed, the wind talks back
My bones are shifting in my skin
And you, my love, are gone.
My room feels wrong, the bed won't fit
I cannot seem to operate
And you, my love, are gone.

So glide away on soapy heels
And promise not to promise anymore
And if you come around again,
Then I will take the chain from off the door.

-Ingrid Michaelson

Monday, March 29, 2010

Upcoming Concerts

Okay all. There are a lot of shows coming up that I highly recommend you check out. Here are a few concerts coming up that I'm definitely planning on attending in SoCal.

Patty Griffin - April 10th at the Wiltern (expect a review from on this one). If you're not familiar with Patty, I recommend dowloading some of her stuff pronto. "Impossible Dream" is my favorite album of hers (particularly the song "Useless Desires"). Yet, there's something to be said about her stripped down debut "Living With Ghosts" (just her and an acoustic guitar). And it really doesn't get much better than the sweet, slow, heart-wrenching song "Rain" from her album "1,000 Kisses." She's currently touring to support her new album, "Downtown Church", which is a collection of gospel songs. If you would like to read my review on this album, click here:

Lilith Fair - touring all summer, but in Los Angeles/Orange County July 10th at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. So, the dates and cities were just recently announced and it looks like they're still trying to figure out who's playing in what city/venue. So far, to be honest, the LA date doesn't look to promising. But i'm hoping they'll beef up the lineup just a little bit. Most of the performers have been announced already. So here is my ideal lineup (and if i have to arrange a little road trip to see all of these bands/ be it). But, of the performers, this is who I would love to see in LA, to make my life and budget a little easier: Colbie Caillat, Court Yard Hounds, Erykah Badu, Gossip, Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Metric, Sara Bareilles, Sheryl Crow, Sugarland, Tegan and Sara (of course), The Bangles, Ingrid Michaelson, Vedera, and maybe a little bit of Ke$ha (don't judge). Who knows if any of them will play in LA, but I'm seriously hoping so...especially Vedera. If not, i'll be hitting up every city each one is playing in until I see them all. (Well...we'll see if that ACTUALLY happens, but it sounds like fun!)

Jenny Lewis (opening for Levon Helm) - August 15th at the Greek. How beautiful will this concert be? The Greek is where I saw Rilo Kiley's very last concert (at least, that's what a lot of people were touting it as, but i'm optimistic that we haven't heard the last of fact...I know we haven't. Here's hoping for at least another RK tour...) So I'm really looking forward to seeing her open for the Levon Helm Band. I've NEVER missed J.Lew when she plays in LA and this will be my 13th time seeing her in concert. Or is it my 14th? Oh hell, I'm starting to lose track. But when I told my dad about Levon Helm playing, he got really excited. So I'm thinking maybe I'll bring him along. He can introduce me to Levon, and I can introduce him to the genius that is Jenny Lewis. This show is sure to be legendary.

Paramore with Tegan and Sara - September 19th at the Honda Center in Anaheim. My head just about exploded when I learned of this joint venture between two of my favorites. I've seen Tegan and Sara several times now, but never in such a big venue, so I'm curious to see how that will play out. And this will be my first time seeing Paramore. Excited!!!

Stay tuned for more concert updates...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lyrics of the Day

No force of nature can break
Your will to self motivate
She say this face that you see
Is destined for history.

--Michael Jackson

"The Runaways"

Okay, this one's gonna be a bit short, but ever-so-sweet. I just watched the movie touted as the "Joan Jett" flick, "The Runaways." Now, my passion for music doesn't go so far to the point where I would consider myself a 'music snob.' I don't know everything. I don't claim do know everything. I just know what I like. So I'll be honest here, I didn't really know much about the story of The Runaways. I knew they existed. I knew they were Joan Jett's first band, but I couldn't name any other members or any other songs of theirs besides "Cherry Bomb." But I gotta tell ya, I found myself tapping my foot along to the beat of every song in that movie and now I'm interested in buying either the soundtrack or a Runaways album. (I'm not above calling myself a bandwagoner in certain's rare, but it happens.)

I know this is a music blog, but seeing as how this is a music biopic, I think it's fairly relevant. And as far as biopics go, this one was actually pretty decent. (Still doesn't hold a candle to my all-time favorite biopic: "The Buddy Holly Story", but it was still pretty damn good). The plot itself wasn't all that riveting. Just the basic story of their humble beginnings, rise to quasi-fame, and subsequent destruction of the lead singer leading to their breakup. It's not the story that drives the film. It's the performances. And dayum...Dakota Fanning done growed up. After her performance of Cherie Currie, I think it's pretty safe to say she'll be making the transition to more grown up roles a lot more easily than most other child stars.

I was fairly unsure about the fact that Kristen Stewart was playing Joan Jett. Bella Swan? Really? Oh man...this'll be interesting. But now I couldn't possibly imagine anyone but Kristen playing the iconic Joan Jett. She BECAME much to the point where I wasn't watching Kristen playing Joan...I was just watching Joan the 70's...making her way in the "man's world" of rock music. It's kinda scary to think that Lindsay Lohan wanted to play Joan...or so I heard. Thankfully that didn't happen.

I'm sure it was to coincide with the movie's release, but Joan Jett just released a collection called "Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Greatest Hits." It includes songs like "Bad Reputaion," "I Love Rock and Roll," "Crimson and Clover," and interestingly enough "Cherry Bomb." Download it if you want a little bit of badassness.

I know this was kind of a lame post, but seriously...check out the movie. It's pretty decent. And now I'm inspired to write a blog on the best and worst musical biopics of all time. For a later date...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Interview with Natalie Maines and Glenn Frey

The Dixie Chicks and The Eagles? Yes, please!

Ask anyone who knew me in college and they will tell you my favorite band was without a doubt The Dixie Chicks. I had all their albums, knew all their songs, learned them on guitar and sang them at karaoke. I had seen them on every tour they had. Safe to say, I was a huge fan. Still am, of course, but the fact that they haven’t released in album in five years makes it a little difficult to keep them fresh in my mind. But they’re always there and their music is always with me. So as an avid, semi-obsessed fan, when I found out I had a chance to interview Natalie Maines, I immediately jumped at the opportunity, regardless of the fact that I have never had an official sit-down interview with anyone before. A minor detail I would work out later. This was Natalie friggin’ Maines! And to add to it, I was going to interview her side by side with Glenn Frey from the Eagles. Yup, little ol’ me was going to be in the presence of musical greatness. The reason for this interviewed taylor-made for me? The Dixie Chicks and The Eagles are going out on tour together this summer. Man, that’s gonna be one killer show.

So, truth be told, I walked into the interview absolutely terrified. Butterflies and all that. Since this was my very first sit-down interview, I had no idea what to expect. But after walking into the room, I introduce myself, took my seat directly across from them and immediately felt right at home. It ended up being more of a conversation amongst three music lovers than an ‘interview.’ Before the interview started, I told Natalie how I’d never missed a Dixie Chicks concert whenever they were in LA or Orange County. After that, I informed Glenn that the first song I ever learned to play on the guitar was “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagles. He said that means I “started out with true greatness.” And then I blushed, feeling a “h’yuck, aw shucks” moment coming on.

I started off the interview asking what brought these two powerhouse acts together and who contacted who. Glenn responded saying that they first reached out to the Chicks and were fans of theirs.

“I’m just glad that it’s THEIR tour. They handle all the decision making and the pre-production sort of stuff. That’s the stuff that can be very taxing. So I love when we get invited on someone else’s tour,” said Natalie.

After asking how the Eagles have influenced her musically, Natalie told me that she grew up listening to the Eagles and that there were very few bands that bridged the gap between kids and adults. The Eagles was one of those bands.

After asking Natalie if she was nervous about returning to the stage after a four-year break from touring, she said she was more excited then anything and not nervous at all. When I asked her about Martie and Emily’s side project, Court Yard Hounds, she replied, “I’ve heard it few times and I think it’s great.” Adding that it was very brave of them to go off on their own, saying that they are the brave ones. “I’m not brave. I’m the big mouth,” she said with a laugh. “Martie and Emily were ready to start recording again and I was just happy to be in sunny California. Crafting and gardening,” she added with another chuckle.

Regarding the Chicks’ return to touring, Glenn stated, “It’s not hard being a Dixie Chick. You guys have done it for so long. Even if you haven’t played for a couple years…it’s just a matter of showing up and doing a little bit of calisthenics with you partners.”
He then went on to talk about what he calls “the circle of fear,” which is where they gather to practice and make sure that everyone is on the same page music-wise. “You just sit there with a couple of acoustic guitars and make sure everyone’s singing the right parts…”
“Kind of like the anti-Grateful Dead,” I interjected.
“Exactly,” he responded.
Though Natalie called that a “scary circle,” I sure would love to be in the middle of it, just taking it all in.

So, the interview continues and I’m kind of surprised at the fact that my voice managed to refrain from cracking.
“Can you tell us what lies in the future for the Dixie Chicks? Are you guys planning on getting back into the recording studio?”
“No plans for that yet. I don’t force anything. I just like things to feel right and let them come together,” replied Natalie.
“So this is more of a comeback tour, right? It isn’t a farewell tour, is it?”
At that, Natalie emphatically assure me, “Oh no, no. Not at all…We have not broken up. We’ve always wanted longevity. We’ve worked really, really, really hard. People think that because you haven’t toured, you’re broken up. But we’ll always be the Dixie Chicks. Right now, there’s no new album, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

Good answer, Natalie. Good answer.

On the subject of bands taking long breaks, Glenn said “You know there may be a little bit of anxiety of ‘are our fans still there? Are they still gonna show up?’ And then they do. And then a really nice sort of reunion between you and your fans.”

So I’m running out of time and running out of tape and I didn’t get to all the questions I wanted to ask, but I quickly inquired what Glenn’s favorite Dixie Chicks song is, to which he replied “Wide Open Spaces.” (The song that started it all for the lovely, harmonizing trio.) When I asked Natalie what her favorite Eagles song was, Glenn interjected with “Oh God, please don’t say ‘Desperado.’ I’m so tired of playing that.”

For those of you who plan on checking out this tour, you might be in for a treat because the idea of the two bands performing something together on stage is definitely not off the table. “We’re talking about it,” says Frey.

Okay, so this interview has gone by way to fast and sadly, had to end. But before I was scooted out the door, I asked Natalie one quick personal question that I simply wanted to know for myself: when the Chicks first started out, they decided to get matching chicken feet tattoos on their feet for every big milestone they reached as a band. So I asked her:
“How many chicken feet tattoos do you have on your foot now?”

“Oh gosh,” she laughed. Well, we’re supposed to have, like, nineteen now, but for now we’ve stopped at six. Man, it hurts. And every time we get a new one, the older ones are faded so we have to get them touched up and it’s kind of painful. Yeah, that was my bright idea.”
Natalie and Glenn couldn’t have been nicer and I couldn’t have asked for a better first interview experience. Finally, after all this time, I got to meet Natalie. This is a woman whose voice would just echo through my mind every time I heard one of their songs. I absolutely love this woman. She’s talented, brassy, and unapologetic yet humble at the same time. And Glenn Frey? He’s nothing short of a legend. I interviewed one of my idols and a legend. I am awesome.

Lyrics of the Day

"If only I could believe that I do deserve something good,
then I could relax and be myself.
Cuz if I fall any harder, I would break in two
I wish the other half was you."

-Mike Comfort

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lyrics of the Day

"Stick your hands inside of my pockets
Keep them warm while I'm still here...
...Stick your heart inside of my chest
Keep it warm here while we rest
Tell them this love hasn't changed me, hasn't changed me at all."
-Tegan and Sara


So, I wrote this review a couple months ago, but I'm reposting it here simply because this band is incredible. This review is about their new album "Stages." But their previous album, "The Weight of an Empty Room" is just as good. Man, I really hope I can get tickets to Lilith Fair to see them.


I only recently heard Vedera on satellite radio in the car. Their new single “Satisfy” came on and before I changed the station out of habit, I paused once the song started playing. I kept my finger on the button for the next station, but couldn’t bring myself to push it. I was too enthralled with what I was hearing and after the song was over, I immediately went home and started downloading their songs.

Hailing from Kansas City, MO, Vedera formed in 2004. The quartet is fronted by Kristen May whose undeniably captivating voice is part Nina Gordon (of Veruca Salt), part Leigh Nash (of Sixpence None the Richer) with a little bit of Paramore’s Hayley Williams thrown in the mix. But it’s definitely all powerfully effectual and she brings a uniquely soulful force to her voice that sets her apart from the rest. May’s vocals combined with guitarist Brian Little, bassist Jason Douglas, and drummer Drew Little, fuse together to create a vibrant sound and bring impassioned lyrics to life.

Yes, this is a band that’s truly going places this year. They’re already off to a great start. Their song “Satisfy” is currently featured as the iTunes single of the week. They will be performing at this summer’s return of the iconic Lilith Fair and they are playing the Sundance Film Festival’s 2010 ASCAP Music Café. They are also gearing up for a tour with Jack’s Mannequin next month.

Their new album, Stages, can easily be described as a ‘break-up cd’ upon first listen. From beginning to end, the album is full of heartbreak anthems fleshed out with an edgy indie rock sound. But it’s also so much more than that. There’s a vulnerability to the lyrics that draw you in from the first word sung and don’t let you go until the last song.

On “Satisfy”, as soon as her ethereal and almost impalpable voice hits the atmosphere, this song takes hold and grips you, making nearly impossible to not immediately push the repeat button afterwards. May’s voice also soars while singing the deeply affecting words of “A World Apart” while the poignant lyrics of “Forgive You” ask the simplest question: “How do you say ‘I forgive you’? And how do you know when to choose to, and when to move along?” You can’t get much more relatable to that.

It’s a far cry from the simple and sweet “If You Go”, which one of the love songs on the album, but “Back to the Middle” is yet another song about loss, but also hope, devotion and not wanting to let go now matter how jumbled and blurred life may seem. Granted, this may all be subjective, but what’s fairly obvious is the pain and longing being conveyed in the music. And as odd as it sounds, with a voice like that, it’s easy for the listener can find pleasure in that sort of pain.

On paper, the lyrics read like poetry; someone scorned and searching for some sort of happiness. Aurally, the lyrics leap off the page and seep in. It’s really somewhat difficult to describe, so I suggest finding out for yourself. Stages was released digitally in October of last year, but if you haven’t downloaded it yet, be sure to pick up a copy when it’s released in its physical format, which was released in February.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lyrics of the Day

"They say California is a recipe for a black hole. I say I've got my best shoes on, I'm ready to go." -Rilo Kiley

The Temper Trap

I caught the Temper Trap concert at the Music Box at Henry Fonda last night in Hollywood. I had only actually become familiar with them after hearing their song "Sweet Disposition" on an episode of my favorite British tv show, "Skins," (a show that introduces me to a lot of new music). I know the song has been around for a while, but I somehow a little late for the party on this one. It's a deeply rich-sounding song that gets in your head and stays there...but in a good way. Though, it's a little difficult to understand the lyrics at first, so I recommend looking those up. After catching the "Sweet" fever, I started listening to more of their songs and fell in love with the quick beats of the music and distinct falsetto of lead singer Dougie Mandagi. The snappy, beat heavy "Fader" and the softer, whimsical "Love Lost" from their 2009 album "Conditions" stood out to me the most. The offbeat, funky, almost psychedelic sound had me hooked. My interest was piqued, so what was I to do next? Watch them live, of course...which we all know is a very different experience than listening to a band on your ipod while at the gym.

So off to the Henry Fonda I went! (A fabulous venue for live bands.) The band took the stage at 10:15 and opened to a screaming, sold out crowd. While it was hard to take my eyes off of lead singer Mandagi as his voice took flight, I found myself mesmerized by the bass player, who was obviously enjoying being on stage having his own little party by swaying heavily to every song.

Mandagi's sweetly powered voice filled the venue. Man, that guy can SING! Yeah, he can hit the high notes, but even when his regular singing voice is put to use, it's just as enthralling. But wait! There's more! The last song before their encore, he busted out his own impressive drumming skills with smoke rising up out of the drum. It was quite the spectacle. They came back out for a two-song encore and the set finished up around 11:05. It may have been a rather short, fifty-minute set, but it was a packed performance well worth the time and money. Sometimes it's the little things about a show that I love the most, like using hand claps, joining their drummer, as percussion.

This was the first stop on their US Tour. If they come to your city, be sure to check out their show. (Maybe look up the lyrics first, if you wanna sing along.)