By Mary Chang on Thursday, 8th October 2009 at 2:00 pm
Mark my words – the next wave of music to invade the global airwaves will be new-garde Latin. Not the tango and rhumba that your parents would cut a rug to in their town dancehall, no, but an updated version of Latin rhythms complemented perfectly with dance beats heavy enough for the best clubs around and enough rhythm and blues inflection to appeal to the kids. Going into this gig, I knew nothing about Bajofondo except for the spare songs on their MySpace that sounded good to my ears upon their first listen. But always in the back of my mind when I listen to songs off MySpace is the question, ‘can this band deliver the same sound – or better – in the live environment?’ Bajofondo have been touring 2 years nearly nonstop in support of their latest album, ‘Mar Dulce’ (or ‘the sweet sea’), and I am happy to report that the group’s live performance exceeded my expectations several hundred fold. They stopped by Washington’s 9:30 Club to play to a vocal, mostly Spanish-speaking crowd, and were supported by New York City’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band.
Composer, singer, and guitarist Gustavo Santaolalla is, for practical purposes, considered the leader of this group. But he is quick to compliment the many Argentinian and Uruguain people that make up this fabulous band, and one could argue that each member is at the peak or near peak of his artistic excellence on his respective instruments. What I enjoyed most about the live Bajofondo experience was the sheer variety of musical styles they traversed in one evening. I expected the ‘electrotango’ sound associated with the band as described on Web sites, but not the trip hop and house stylings that seemed effortless to them.
But first, let me describe to you the Phenomenal Handclap Band’s set. I am a very lucky girl to have seen them 3 times in less than 2 months, once in their hometown of New York (opening for Friendly Fires at le poisson rouge) and twice in my hometown of Washington, a town that, until a couple years ago, seemed to have trouble attracting up and coming artists to play here. Having eight members makes matters of space difficult when the PHB play a smaller venue, but the 9:30 Club is huge compared to the other places I’ve seen this band. So what was the benefit of them having more space? Their singers and musicians had more latitude to spread out, moving and grooving their guitars and shaking their tambourines to the beat. These folks can really get down, with their psychedelic, funky, colorful rhythms, bouncy percussion, and screaming guitars and keyboards. Simply wonderful. I wasn’t sure how the Latino gig-goers would react, but they seemed to really enjoy the band’s sound as much as I did.
In addition to classical and easy listening, both of my parents favoured Latin music as my brother and I grew up. But the Latin music they liked to play were the restrictive, to the letter type of music you’d hear at ballroom dance classes. Not really for me. There is a large Latino presence in the Washington D.C. area. Unlike my friends, I am not a salsa dance fiend, and I’ve always shied away from approaching Latin music because I don’t understand much Spanish at all and what Latin music I did hear, I wasn’t a fan of the rhythms being employed. So it was with much surprise and delight when I heard what kinds of music Bajofondo had to offer. Gustavo Santaolalla is a good bandleader in the sense that he lets each member of this so-called ‘project’ shine with what they do best. It would take me a long time to describe what each member played, so instead I’m going to lift from their MySpace their members’ names and what each plays: ‘Bajofondo is comprised of Gustavo Santaolalla on guitar, percussion, and vocals; Juan Campodónico on programming, beats, samples and guitar; Luciano Supervielle on piano, keyboards and scratch; Javier Casalla on violin; Martín Ferrés on bandoneon; Gabriel Casacuberta on upright bass and electric bass; Adrián Sosa on drums; and Verónica Loza as VJ and on vocals’.
In particular, I really enjoyed the mustachioed Javier Casalla, who I understand is a world-renowed tango rhythm violinist and could probably be playing those crusty songs my parents loved back in the day, but instead he plays the violin with this band with gusto, as if the violin is speaking its emotions to us and saying, ‘hello, I am here and I am not going to be ignored!’ This evening I was standing in front of Martín Ferrés, who plays the bandoneón (essentially is an Argentinian/Urugaian accordion) and I was really amazed with the range the instrument had. Producer and guitarist Juan Campodónico (also famed in the Latino music world) had the crowd jumping with dance beats that at first I was skeptical of being appropriate with Latin music, given what I previously and erroneously thought. At times, all members seemed to be jumping up and down inexhaustibly. Highlights included ‘Pa’ bailar’ and ‘El mareo’. Close to the end of the night, girls were invited onstage to join in on the onstage dance party. Now that’s the proper way to have a stage invasion! Besides the dancey songs, they also had slower, sultrier numbers that had women of all ages around me swooning. Maybe there is truth to the Latin lover stereotype!
Santaolalla told us early on in the show that this was their last show of their 2-year tour, an ending of sorts. Even though the band is physically separated by miles (they all live in different cities around the world), I hope they will still get together sometimes to record and make more music, because I think the world is ready to receive them. They made me a believer in just one night.
By Mary Chang on Thursday, 8th October 2009 at 10:00 am
American rockers Foo Fighters have returned with a new single, ‘Wheels’. It’s more mellow, more Tom Petty-ish than what we all are used to from them, but maybe they are easing into middle age? Follow this link to watch the video at YouTube.
‘Wheels’ will be included in the band’s greatest hits album coming soon.
Foo Fighters‘ greatest hits package in standard and deluxe versions on 2 November in the UK and 3 November in America. You can preorder yours at Amazon.
By Mary Chang on Wednesday, 7th October 2009 at 2:00 pm
New York City quartet the Pains of Being Pure at Heart released a new, five-track EP, ‘Higher Than the Stars’, in late September. It’s a slight departure from the band’s eponymous debut (released in February 2009 on Slumberland Records in America and Fortuna Pop! in the UK) that brought us ‘Everything with You’. But it still sounds like the Pains…, who in my opinion have been unfairly branded by the hipster-cum-twee pop genre label. Steve Lamacq predicted at the new year that shoegaze would make a comeback, and this band is evidence that the sound so big in the ‘90s can rise again in a newer, better form, with its dexterously lush guitars and emotional lyrics.
As per their debut album, at the forefront are the freewheeling guitars of bassist Alex Naidus and frontman Kip Berman, propelling the songs with a sense of urgency, augmented by keyboards from Peggy Wang and drumming from Kurt Feldman. Berman’s vocals and Wang’s harmonies round out the Pains’ sound. The title track is sublime, guitars and vocals washing over you like a midsummer’s kiss in the rain (see the video filmed by Seattle radio station KEXP at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge below); the same could be said about ‘Twins’. ‘103′ is short and infectious. Love it. If you are old enough to remember, the instrumentation and vocals of ‘Falling Down’ will remind you of Kajagoogoo, but better! (Sorry Limahl.) Most unique in this set of songs: the Saint Etienne Visits Lord Spank Mix of ‘Higher Than the Stars’, in which a gentle song gets the rave treatment. Readers familiar with my current favourite artists as of late will not be surprised that I really dig this remix.
EPs afford bands the opportunity to branch out and record something between albums without being confined to the figurative boundaries of an album. According to Berman, this is exactly what they set out to do with this EP. Their effort succeeds admirably and leaves the listener eager for the band’s next album release. Let’s hope that appears sooner rather than later.
After the jump: more of my photos from the Pains at Being Pure at Heart gig at Washington DC’s Black Cat on 30th September 2009.
By Jess Grant on Wednesday, 7th October 2009 at 12:00 pm
I first introduced The Chapman Family way back in November of last year. I loved their energetic post-punk, tainted by a distinctive graveyard gloom which had Joy Division stamped all over it, It’s great to see that, one year on, the Teeside quartet are doing super well for themselves, with next week bringing about the release of second single, ‘Virgins’.
The Chapman Family continue to wreak audio darkness with their latest musical slice. Wavey guitars, thrashing drums and throbbing bass lines make up the melody to the monstrous ‘Virgins’. The sullen vocals are a little White Lies, while the poppy chorus hooks are uber Maximo Park. However, The Chapman Family add their own distinctively dark layer, which makes for excitingly intimidating listening. Indeed, ‘Virgins’ has an undoubted air of infectious passion. Frontman, Kingsley Chapman rigidly sings “Please don’t let us hold you back!”, over the thundering, gyrating bass, before a combustion of guitars and tom-tom thrashes bring about the musical climax at the end of the track. You must check out the official video to ‘Virgins’, below, to hear more of this super sinister stuff.
By Mary Chang on Wednesday, 7th October 2009 at 10:00 am
Courtesy of and much thanks to the friendly (no pun intended) people at Baeblemusic, we can bring you the live version of ‘Kiss of Life’ performed by everyone’s favourite dance pop band from St. Albans, Friendly Fires, at le poisson rouge in New York’s Greenwich Village on 12 August 2009. Click here to watch the entire sweaty gig at Baeblemusic’s Web site. I like to think I was one of the ‘boldly dressed concert goers’ described by their reviewers, and I do believe I spot the back of my head a couple times (one of their cameramen was right behind me the entire night). But never mind all that…just pull up a chair and enjoy the revelry.
Tickets are on sale now for all dates. Catch the guys at:
Monday 1st February 2010 – Sunderland The Independent
Tuesday 2nd February 2010 – O2 Newcastle Academy 2
Wednesday 3rd February 2010 – Glasgow ABC
Friday 5th February 2010 – Manchester Ritz
Saturday 6th February 2010 – O2 Liverpool Academy 2
Monday 8th February 2010 – Preston 53 Degrees
Tuesday 9th February 2010 – Sheffield Plug
Wednesday 10th February 2010 – Stoke Sugar Mill
Friday 12th February 2010 – Derby Rock House
Saturday 13th February 2010 – Coventry Kasbah
Sunday 14th February 2010 – Norwich Waterfront
Tuesday 16th February 2010 – Southampton University
Wednesday 17th February 2010 – Brighton Digital
Thursday 18th February 2010 – London Koko
Friday 19th February 2010 – O2 Leeds Academy