Friday, February 16, 2007

Did You Ever Want to Run Around with Bandits?

To settle into my workday, after I take off my assorted winter paraphernalia and reheat some lentils for breakfast, I pop on my headphones and try to imagine I'm somewhere else, usually back in bed curled up with a book. It's not that my job sucks, it's just that sometimes I want to go home and disappear for a long time.

As it turns out, I'm Van Occupanther.

I'm Van Occupanther!

Let me explain. The first time I listened to Midlake's Van Occupanther, I was blown away- until I heard We Gathered In Spring and couldn't get over the Fleetwood Mac-iness of the wah-wah1. I didn't listen to them again- until this week, when WAMU, my local Morning Edition affiliate, held their funding drive. Because I prefer to pirate my public radio with a clear conscience, I wait out the week of Kojo Nnamdi and Diane Rehm admonishing me by turning them off. This particular funding drive, I replaced them with Midlake, in anticipation of their concert at the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel, which both the Object and Lionel (yes, the cat of a vampiverish nature) assured me would be awesome.

About 12 bars into the song, the fluorescent lights around my "office"2 faded and I was transported all Neverending Storylike back to 1891. Not a lot of bands can make you forget the workday to the extent that the Executive Director has to wave her arms like an air traffic controller to get your attention. It's kind of like a musical version of Little House on The Prairie: The Young Twentysomething Years. Not the suckedy t.v. show version, either.

So needless to say, I got psyched for the concert.

This was my first foray into the world of the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel, in the up and coming Atlas District, which, is the up and coming-est area in the city.3 Their major design flaw: the bathrooms were up in the front, past the stage. This meant if you, the Object, and Lionel find a sweet spot along the wall where you could actually see the stage, you didn't know if the Fezzik4 in front of you was worming his way to the bathroom or worming his way in front of you to camp out for the long-term. But the sound quality was mixed so well that the denizens of DC can no longer apologize for the Black Cat's tin-litter box sound quality.

I came in during the second opener, St. Vincent, who seemed to be working really hard to prove her indie street cred by wearing oversized dorky non-prescription glasses, American Apparel, and asking the mostly male crowd if they were ever into Alfred E. Neuman, too5. She had a sound that evoked Fiona Apple- throaty and deep high notes with the soul of an eighty year old man. With a sped-up tempo and a talented rhythm section, I would defs go see her headlining. Also, she stood next to me during Midlake's set, and I felt damn cool by association.

Midlake spent about three or four hours setting up their massive arsenal of instruments, but oh, how the wait was worth it. They launched into We Gathered in Spring. The first thing I noticed about the band6is how well-rehearsed they were. The five-part harmonies were tighter than traffic in Dupont Circle at 5:30 p.m. And don't get me wrong, I'm not damning them with faint praise- all that rehearsal showcases how immensely talented they are- Roscoe being the prime evidence. Delicate vocals coupled with intricate instrumentation and lyrics came together to give their songs an epic storytelling-quality that brought the experience of listening to them way beyond simply listening to a band that draws from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and Steely Dan. Snooty indie kids take note: you can't get away with calling these guys derivative. Ha ha!

Adding video and imagery to back up a concert is not a little risky- you just never when it's just gonna come off as an experiment in marketing for adult ADD. The band backed up their songs with videos that took a minute to realize were not stock footage from the 1890's but of the band themselves traipsing through barren woods wearing top hats and monocles in pope mobile-like contraptions. But ADD this was not- if the album alone transported me, the video made me a character in the songs. On one particular song, which, sadly, I didn't know, since I didn't have their first album (yet), they started with a picture of a charcoal-drawn witch, and as the song progressed, the camera panned out to show an entire Albrecht Durer-type scene, which, as an audience member, you couldn't help but feel as though you were one of the wretched villagers- but y'know, in a good way, because you had beer and Midlake was the band.

What with all that musicianship and storytelling talent, the band could very easily have been insufferable and far too big for their britches. But I couldn't tell you which bandmember I loved most. There was Tim Smith, who could woo anyone using solely his voice. Eric Pulido's guitar solos put Lindsay Buckingham to shame. Paul Alexander timidly stood behind the two of them and looked like he was most comfortable getting his rawk on when no one noticed. Onstage, McKenzie Smith looks a little like Daniel Franco, but plays a trap set like he's not sure if he's Tony Williams (not that Tony Williams) or Satan.
And Eric Nichelson's keyboards were like ketchup to the band's french fries- simply pointless without it. While they were intense to the verge of looking all heroin-addled while playing, their between-song banter charmed me- highlights included dedicating Young Bride to a couple who had gotten engaged that day, and introducing Chasing After Deer as "a song about a guy who chases after a girl, who is chasing deer, and then she falls off a cliff. Guys, you can write a song about anything."

My complaints about the show were kinda gluttonous in nature. I wish that they'd made room on the stage for two people to come in and play a real flute and a real violin on Van Occupanther. The song needed the real instruments to capture its introspection- i guess the song worked, but it could have been so much sweeter. And with all the band's cohesiveness, I would have loved it if they had taken the time to break out and rawk. I've never said this before, and I may never say it again, but more jamming! When they closed with Head Home, I was too entranced to look away, but if I had looked back, I'm sure I would have the Object and Lionel trading air guitar solos. If the band had let go of themselves, Lionel would be probably picking Van Occupanther as the number one name for the baby in Mrs. Lionel's tummy.

It could still happen. I think their current frontrunner is Baby Return to Castle Wolfenstein. And between the two names, only one will teach her not to chase a deer off a cliff.

1. I'm really just not a FM fan, and you know what, I'm not sorry.

2. It's not a cubicle.

3. The Object and I were totally hanging out there back in the day, before it was cool. Yes, I'm talking about the era of seven weeks ago.

4. For serious- he towered over even the Object and Lionel, who are no slouches at 6'2" or so.

5. I'm probs just jealous that she's getting her cred at a younger age than I.

6. Other than the giant paper mache-ed bear head with pink bejeweled eyes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Eric Pulido's guitar solos put Lindsay Buckingham to shame." nonsense bordering on bullshit. don't come back until you've listened to "tusk."

- dbh

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait, i'm still pissed. lindsey buckingham is a certified guitar god. midlake is a pleasant, talented band. there is no comparison between the two, except for the fact that the members of midlake grew up listening to fleetwood mac. and the eagles. and america. etc.

here's some suggested listening. aside from the entire tusk album, go listen to lindsay play "big love" off the live "dance" cd. listen to him play the acoustic on "landslide," and his amazing "world turning" off of the "fleetwood mac" album. on second thought, listen to all of "rumours" and "fleetwood mac."

you are not allowed to make any comparisons to lindsey buckingham until you educate yourself. don't make me have to take drastic measures . . . like cutting off sparky's supply.

- dbh

10:19 AM  
Blogger rock_ninja said...

A. Don't cut off Sparky's supply! Don't punish him for my mistakes!

B. I do grant you that Lindsay Buckingham is good, but I don't think Fleetwood Mac's music was anything more than just pleasant music that was easy on the ears- that said, I haven't listened to much beyond the basic FM canon that everyone hears.I will listen to Tusk, shoudl it appear on my slowly dying iPod, but FM hasn't really seemed like much to me except the same song written over a few different ways, with a few Buckingham solos tossed in. I do often find my words delicious, so we'll have to see.

C. But seriously, Stevie Nicks? C'mon, seriously?

D. That said, Midlake is way more that just a nice listen- were you not at the same show I was? It's the jusxtaposition of so many different types of media and craft that make the whole Midlake experience so rich- the epic storytelling with the painstakingly reworked video and the lushness of the music- It's so much more than ear candy. I will take back Lindsay Buckingham if you acknowledge that Midlake is one of the most promising bands out there these days.

E. However, I will NEVER capitulate on the Dave Matthews thing, so if you share Young Sparky's thoughts on him, well then ecpth.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a. the threat's been made. i make no promises.

b. here's where i really just want to resort to name-calling. you've just described midlake - a casual listen to their album yields little more than the same song over and over. try listening to the mac for the first time - i mean really listening to songs you've heard on the radio your whole life. i won't tell you that "don't stop thinking about tomorrow" will change your life, but maybe "i don't want to know" will, when you realize how perfectly constructed and played the song really is. but you've got to open your ears up.

c. her voice had to grow on me, but she's a crucial part of what makes the mac so great. and she wrote some fantastic songs back in the day.

d. i wasn't at the show. like i said, i like midlake. i like the album quite a bit and i've recommended it to various people. but i won't declare them the next great thing until they make an album that doesn't just remind me of some decent 1970s california rock. i find their storytelling to be a little silly (and this from a lover of pinball wizards). their music is solid and well played, although i don't find it terribly memorable. do i like it because it reminds me of music i already enjoy, or on it's own merits? hard to say. but they aren't doing anything even close to new - they're just borrowing from a different tradition than most of the kids out there. i promise you - they are doing NOTHING new, but what they do, they are doing well. honestly, i find it silly just to be making this argument. i don't own any america, but i've got plenty of stuff by the (late-era)byrds, the (70s era) hollies, fleetwood mac, the eagles, the pure prairie league . . . it's a long list. you are welcome to listen. all these bands were filled with earnest looking guys with beards. and they made some great music (and a lot of cheesy music).

e. don't care for the dave matthews band. i liked the song mr. matthews did with the blue man group, and i liked "crash" until i realized that all of his slow songs sounded the same. mr. matthews could fall off the face of the earth and i wouldn't notice.


5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

. . . but to avoid losing the real point: midlake might be talented musicians, but they just aren't in the same league as lindsey buckingham. not song writing or playing. to say otherwise is a joke and betrays a hipster's ignorance and bias.

yes, now i am just resorting to name calling.

- dbh

5:38 PM  
Blogger rock_ninja said...

First of all, I'm no dirty hipster. I have never smoked an American Spirit (and I relish the fact that American Spirits are made by Phillip Morris), nor have I ever owned and/or worn a boy-scout uniform shirt, nor have I paid $85 to get a haircut that makes me look like my mother cut my hair with a rusty weedwhacker. If you're going to reduce me to the living stereotype that I am, please do it right; I am a Trader Joe's-shopping,nose ring-wearing, blog-writing, bloviating yindie, OK? Keep it straight. But I still don't pay to have my hair cut; that's for suckers.

Moving on. I'm glad we've found some common ground with the no-talent hack that is Dave Matthews and the Pinball Wizardry. (he's a pinball wizard? There's got to be a twist!)

And I will take you up on your offer of relistening to some Fleetwood Mac.

As far as Midlake goes, you're not taking into account the totality of their album- I passed it off as completely derivative and lame to begin with- just ask Sparky (for those of you following along at home, we call Sparky the Object 'round these parts- they are one and the same). But when you explore the whole album, it comes together as one concept album about Van Occupanther, exploring introspective and metaphysical themes personally and juxtaposing them on a historic background, all while drawing on the musical experience that FM and the Eagles and whozitnow created to underscore that setting. I will give the careful listen of FM that you requested if you go back and listen to what Van Occupanther does in terms of describing the American experience while still being a part of it. Seriously, it's David McCullough shit.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to my yoga class with a bunch of other white women who don't know the first thing about Sanskrit, but are willing to pay way too much money to have someone tell us how to get bendy for an hour. Pshaw, hipster.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, i'll listen to midlake and read the lyrics, blah blah blah. but i've seen you in giant leg warmer things. and i've seen the scarves. i call it like it see it. don't run from who you are.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

read this little article about "rumours" - it's good for explaining the interesting dynamics that created this album:

it misses a few key facts - after splitting with buckingham, nicks was having an affair with fleetwood, and c. mcvie was having an affair with a roadie (documented in the song "you make loving fun.")

bye now.


7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just read through all of the midlake lyrics in order. there is more there than i thought there was, and i can see why it appeals to you - especially since you are a decemberists fan. there is a similar "important" vibe . . . catch it in the right mood and it's quite profound and moving; in the wrong mood it's a bunch of pretentious garbage. fyi, i've finally given up trying with the decemberists, but that's a different story for a different day.

- dbh

7:46 PM  
Blogger rock_ninja said...

Bah, I just spent a ridiculous amount of time writing all about my tumoultulous relationship with The Decemberists, for my complaints are many. And just when I got to the end where I redeemed them, blogger made the window disappear. So now I'm cranky and sleepy, and we all know that's nigh onto beer o'clock. So I shall give full rebuttal tomorrow, when I'm not at work, because I am not a bad person who blogs at work. For reals. No, seriously.

10:35 PM  
Blogger The Bird said...

I will turn this blog around RIGHT NOW and go straight home if you two don't cool it back there...

10:56 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home