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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 21st December 2012 at 11:00 am
Another year, and another top 5 gigs by bands that should not be missed live. How odd that three of them came one after another, but that’s the cool thing about Washington DC. Except for December through the beginning of February (the dead of winter) and June through August (festival season), there is always a reasonably good selection of bands coming through here. But that hasn’t always been the case.
I am often asked on my travels why I became a music blogger, and the simple answer has always been this: when I started covering shows in March 2009, I was getting increasingly upset about how many bands (American or international) would skip Washington entirely, either in favour of going to Philadelphia instead or would only consider New York, or maybe Boston, as the only cities worthy on the East Coast for a tour stop. I have had the opportunity to meet so many bands in the last 3+ years that Washington DC has now become considered on the list of cities bands sincerely wish to play in – or on the list that bands say they will definitely pass through on their next headline tours of North America. To know that I have been involved in making this paradigm shift a reality means so much. It means that I have done something for the city I’ve called home all these years and more importantly, have exposed thousands of music fans from varying walks of life who either work, go to school, or pass through our fine city to incredible music.
All five bands whose gigs landed them in my top 5 gigs of 2012 are worth every red cent you can put forward to go see them, either in their own gig or at a festival in 2013. Here’s the list…
5. Ash‘s 20th anniversary tour at DC9 (Thursday 15th November 2012) – what a surreal experience, finally seeing Ash live, in one of the smallest places to see bands in Washington. Even more surreal was after, when I actually got to talk to all of them and Tim Wheeler said I was a more appropriate panelist for Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable than he was. (This made me smile.) The set itself was brilliantly hard rocky, much more so than I ever would have imagined.
4. TGTF’s stage at Liverpool Sound City 2012, starring the Temper Trap, Clock Opera and Dear Prudence – Liverpool Academy of Arts (Friday 18th May 2012) – maybe this is cheating, choosing our own stage at Liverpool. But this night couldn’t have been any better, starring our friends since I took over as Editor of this Web site, the Temper Trap, our new friends from SXSW, Clock Opera, and a band from Brighton destined to bigger things, Dear Prudence. All we can say is THANK YOU to all the bands for making it such a memorable night and THANK YOU Sound City for letting us host this amazing stage.
3. Husky at Red Palace (Friday 17th November 2012) – it’s a sad day in Washington, as Red Palace, similar in intimate size to DC9, will be closing its doors at the end of 2012. But before then, I managed to catch the Melbourne band we befriended at this year’s Great Escape. Just check out this video from the show of the band performing an a capella version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Lover Lover Lover’ and you’ll understand why they’re so good live.
2. the Joy Formidable at St. Stephen’s Church (Saturday 10th November 2012) – the Welsh band have consistently placed in my top 5 gigs of the last 2 years; last year they were at #4 and in 2010, they were at #2. What made the difference and put them higher up this year? Seriously, how often do you see such a power house band in a space as small as a church’s rec room? (Well, it was a little bigger than that…but still.) Absolutely fabulous. And their new album ‘Wolf’s Law’ will be huge next year; just check out this live version of first single ‘Cholla’.
1. Two Door Cinema Club at 9:30 Club (Tuesday 2nd October 2012) – I was having serious reservations about Two Door’s live show, or rather some of their less than nice fans, after seeing them in Baltimore in June and getting shoved – hard – out of our positions down the front. I almost swore I’d never see them again. But I’m glad I changed my mind.
What was the first date on the autumn 2012 North American tour to sell out? Washington DC, of course. There is still some confusion on whether or not Barack Obama is a fan, but one thing is clear: of all the bands that I’ve known and loved, I did right by Two Door Cinema Club – and helped them become the superstars that they’ve dreamt of being since they started as kids in grammar school. I used to be able to see them after shows and hang out with them, but even as those days are over, they’ve never forgotten me. They are true gents.
St. Etienne at U Street Music Hall (Thursday 25th October 2012) – there’s something to be said for Sarah Cracknall, who may be over 40 but still rocks it out every night as if she was in her 20s.
Divine Fits at 9:30 Club (Thursday 18th October 2012) – it always feels incredibly validating when you see a ‘new’ band who hasn’t been touring much…and they turn out to be absolutely fantastic.
Keane with Mystery Jets at Strathmore Hall (Thursday 14th June 2012) – it’s effin’ Keane, for god’s sakes. And with Mystery Jets, who never tour in America! Win-win, really.
Paula and Karol at 93 Feet East in London (Tuesday 15th May 2012) – what do you do between music festivals? Go to a gig, of course. And at this one, I felt welcomed by the entire Polish population of London. What atmosphere.
First Aid Kit at Black Cat (Friday 30th March 2012) – this show was so spirited, the elder Soderberg lost her top right before the encore. Hardcore.
After the cut: the full list of all the gigs, in reverse chronological order, that I’ve been to in 2012 so you can have some idea how difficult my job was to choose favourites for the top 5 list. The runner-up gigs are also marked.
Continue reading Top Gigs of 2012: Editor’s Picks
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 18th December 2012 at 11:00 am
Wowsers, has this year flown by or what? I can scarcely believe we’re ready to celebrate Christmas in a week’s time, but you know what that means, boys and girls. It’s time for the editor’s top picks of 2012. Unlike most lists that have already published either in print or online, there will be no mentions of Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar or DIIV. Sorry. No, and this year, I tried to get away from dance as I could, which seems really odd considering where I found myself 2 years ago; this is probably good commentary on the music scene at large, where beats – either urban or poppy – have invaded nearly every facet of radio and except for the odd album or two, I found these to be completely devoid of heart. Or character. (But there were 3 in my top 10 that were arguably dance albums, so maybe there’s still hope…) Without further delay, here are my picks for 2012.
1. The Crookes – ‘Hold Fast’ (Fierce Panda) – In the shadow of love – in its electric (2010’s #1, Delphic’s ‘Acolyte’) and nostalgic, life affirming (2011’s #1, Noah and the Whale’s ‘Last Night on Earth’) forms – my #1 this year goes as far back to basics with the good ol’ pop-tinged rock ‘n’ roll of Sheffield’s Crookes. I’ve always thought that the smartest songwriters are those that can write catchy tunes while also offering up thought-provoking, intelligent lyric; guitarist Daniel Hopewell fits this description to a T.
This album would feel equally at home in the 1960s as it does in 2012. There is no studio trickery or fancy production here, just heartfelt (and heartbroken in ‘Maybe in the Dark’) feelings being sung to memorable melodies that can help to remind you of simpler times. Or simply remind you of the important people who have coloured your life. Do yourself a favour and get this album. If you’re not sold yet, read my review of ‘Hold Fast’ here.
2. Keston Cobblers’ Club – ‘One, for Words’ (Beatnik Geek) – It has been shown to us time and time again that family members who sing together make some incredible music. (For one, the Beach Boys.) In Julia and Matthew Lowe, we have familial alchemy at work again, this time on some incredible folk pop. When one album can make you laugh, make you cry, make you wistful for a former lover, make you remember through happy tears your life experiences, that is truly special indeed, and that’s what I’ve gotten out of ‘One, for Words’. I expect to be playing this album again and again until my final days. You can read my review of their debut album here.
3. Grimes – ‘Visions’ (4AD) – Claire Boucher is now one of the hottest commodities in the music business these days, and surely the biggest game changer from Canada since Arcade Fire. Every time I tried to catch the baby-voiced master of synths and sequencers in 2012, I never actually managed to get in. Thankfully though, I have this album to keep me company whenever things have gone boring in my life. Variety is the key word of this album, with ambient, industrial, pop and minimalist genres all touched on for one eclectic group of songs. Every time you pick up this album, you’ll hear something exciting you missed the last time around, and I don’t think it’s possible for ‘Visions’ to get old. Read my review here.
4. Casiokids – ‘Aabenbaringen over aaskammen’ (Moshi Moshi) – There’s no way I could have forgotten the craziness of Casiokids’ third album. Even in the middle of winter, thoughts of a pineapple-shaped maraca, the sheer wonkiness of ‘Det Haster!’ and ‘Dresinen’, and disco and jungle beats working in harmony on the same album easily warmed my heart. This is controlled chaos, in a way that only Nordics manage to do it. And even if you go into this album thinking, “no way is this album going to lift my mood”, trust me, it will. You’ll even leave it with a knowing yet silly grin on your face.Read more here.
5. Husky – ‘Forever So’ (Sub Pop) – The Husky debut album was an example of when you keep hearing the name of a band so many times, you’re wondering what the fuss is all about. Well, wonder no more. If you’re the first-ever signing to a indie label as storied as Sub Pop, then you better bring the goods, and Husky Gawenda and co. do just that in a Fleet Foxes meets the sadness of Nick Drake vehicle. If you’ve ever been slayed by gorgeous harmonies, this album’s for you. Read my review of it here.
After the cut: some albums that just missed the top 5 cut, and others that disappointed.
Continue reading Top Albums of 2012: Editor’s Picks
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 12th October 2012 at 11:00 am
With the 2012 Nobel Prize winners in Medicine and Physiology, Physics and Chemistry announced this week, us here at TGTF thought it would be fitting for some discussion of the best songs that have managed to sneak science into their titles. This year’s Literature and Peace Prize winners have also been announced, but let’s face it. There are way too many tunes that would be appropriate and it’s a lot easier to get peace and love into a song, and music is just another art like literature, innit? So without further adieu…
10. Freelance Whales – ‘Enzymes’ (chemistry)
I’m not sure what this song means. “Turn into the tide / spill out your enzymes”: is that a sexual reference? Or maybe a cleansing of your soul? Not sure. Either way, they start the list with a obviously geeky song title.
9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – ‘Twins’ (medicine / physiology)
While it would have been cool to have a song that was literally about the making of twins, this song instead is talking about how people can be perceived as twins as being peas in a pod. Which is the closest you’re going to get outside of genetics. And sheer luck.
8. Everything Everything – ‘Tin (the Manhole)’ (chemistry)
A song with a chemistry title but really about mortality (so could fit in the medicine / physiology group too).
7. Muse – ‘The Resistance’ (physics)
While it’s a stretch with “love is our resistance”, the next line “they keep us apart and they won’t stop breaking us down” actually, rather hilariously, sounds like how in biology, a receptor grabs onto its substrate: made for each other.
6. Maximo Park – ‘Our Velocity’ (physics)
“Never, never try to gauge temperature / when you tend to travel / at such speed / it’s our velocity” – it’s like a physics nerd’s love poem!
5. Tom Williams and the Boat – ‘My Bones’ (medicine / physiology)
Tom Williams effectively harnesses the feelings deep down in one’s bones, the only kind that love lost can engender.
4. The Wombats – ‘Anti-D’ (medicine / physiology)
This is the true story of lead singer Murph’s experience with anti-depressants that didn’t work. It even names citalopram, an actual anti-depressant that physically makes it impossible to cry (“the only tears come from our heads when we concentrate”).
3. Noah and the Whale – ‘Two Atoms in a Molecule’ (chemistry)
Love compared to what happens when two atoms come together to make a molecule? Yes, Charlie Fink *did* go there.
2. Mystery Jets – ‘Serotonin’ (medicine / physiology)
Named after the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter, it’s used effectively here as a way to call out a girl’s name (“Sarah…serotonin…”) and describe the way you feel like when you’re in love. Perfect, really.
1. OMD – ‘Electricity’ (physics)
The song is literally about power, or rather the wasting of it by mankind. Who knew the current flowing through Thomas Edison’s lightbulbs had it going on? And it was the ’80s, so here is a catchy as hell synth melody.
Honourable mention: Thomas Dolby – ‘She Blinded Me with Science’
It’s set in a wacky (no pun intended) mental institution. And come on, there’s an actual scientist – Magnus Pyke – in the video and adding strange interjections into the song. It doesn’t fall into any category but we’d be remiss not mentioning it on this list.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 7th August 2012 at 3:00 pm
Mystery Jets are gearing up for a UK tour this November. Tickets go on sale Friday 10 August at 9 AM.
For an idea of their current live show, you can read my reviews of them appearing at Liverpool Sound City in May here and supporting Keane in Bethesda, Maryland in June here.
Saturday 3rd November 2012 – Lincoln Engine Shed
Sunday 4th November 2012 – Oxford O2 Academy
Monday 5th November 2012 – Cambridge Junction
Wednesday 7th November 2012 – Brighton Concorde 2
Thursday 8th November 2012 – Bournemouth Old Fire Station
Friday 9th November 2012 – Norwich Waterfront
Saturday 10th November 2012 – Leicester O2 Academy
Monday 12th November 2012 – Leeds Met University
Tuesday 13th November 2012 – Glasgow Oran Mor
Wednesday 14th November 2012 – Liverpool Kazimier
Friday 16th November 2012 – Preston 53 Degrees
Saturday 17th November 2012 – Manchester HMV Ritz
Sunday 18th November 2012 – Sheffield Leadmill
Monday 19th November 2012 – Birmingham HMV Institute Library
Thursday 29th November 2012 – London Royal Festival Hall (on sale now)
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 22nd June 2012 at 2:00 pm
Back in the day, when it got overplayed on the radio, I hated ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. I still really do not like that song. Yet I know all the words, and when Tom Chaplin is singing them, I sing along. Why? Because I’m a Keane fan. There’s a part of me that hopes/wishes/prays that one of my greatest wishes, to sing alongside Chaplin onstage, will happen one day. The closest the band have ever gotten to my house was last Thursday night, when they played Strathmore Hall in the burbs of Maryland, in the city of Bethesda. I really could not have gotten any closer to them than I did at SXSW in March and still, eight rows back is really nothing to complain about. Especially when you consider the majesty of their shows.
To my happiness and relief, the show sold out within days of the gig. For sure, the show would have sold out much quicker if it hadn’t been for the mismatch in opener. Mystery Jets were tapped to accompany the East Sussex band on their North American campaign, and Mystery Jets are not anywhere as near as well known as they are back home. Having to explain to other concert-goers who they were and what they sounded like, coupled with seeing people sitting in their cars instead of heading into the venue early, seemed like such a waste to me. You’ve bought tickets with your hard-earned money: aren’t you at least curious to see what the opening band is like? So yes, it kind of upset me when I looked out in the crowd to see that there were far too few people sitting down for the first set.
Their loss: despite playing to only handfuls of Keane fans, both William Rees and Blaine Harrison’s voices sounded amazing and the instrumentation was loud enough yet just right for this hall that usually caters to symphonies and other classical events. The only exception was on ‘Young Love’, which many of you will remember as the first high-profile outing for a then unknown Laura Marling on Mystery Jets’ second album ‘Twenty-Two’; for some reason, the drums and bass were too heavy, drowning out Rees’ lead and Harrison’s backing vocals, making the whole affair sound like a mess.
Of the ‘Radlands’ heavy set, ‘Greatest Hits’ managed to bring English cheekiness to Maryland ‘burbs and their parting shot, ‘Luminescence’, while slow, was enchanting and allowed for a mellowness to pervade the entire hall. After signing some autographs and meeting fans near the merch table upstairs (including an incident involving yours truly becoming verklempt following having an audience with the band), the band left for another show – their own headline gig in Washington DC – and well, your faithful editor decided to stick it out for Keane, because I would have had to miss not only half of Keane’s set to make the other show, but I would have missed the bulk of the new material, which was eager to see live after the new songs had already been properly rehearsed and given to live audiences last month in the UK. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions.
I enjoy seeing Keane live primarily because of Tom Chaplin: he is the epitome of the consummate performer. Working his way back and forth across the stage, singing with his arms raised as if to touch the stars or at least fans in the upper reaches of a venue or fists pumped to indicate he’s in the zone, all of it must be incredibly tiring. But he does it, and he manages to include everyone in the audience, which is no mean feat when it comes to playing to large crowds. Mesmerising.
And while you’re watching this Chaplin spectacle, it’s almost a given that you will forget that Keane is a four-piece, anchored by the songwriting and keyboard talents of Tim Rice-Oxley, new-ish bass player Jesse Quin, and drummer Richard Hughes. Unlike the previous stage set-ups for the ‘Perfect Symmetry’ (very colourful) and ‘Night Train’ (cool illuminations) tours, the ‘Strangeland’ backdrop is pretty boring, looking too much like the Arizona state flag, except there is a circular neon sign announcing ‘Strangeland’ in the upper right hand corner. I am guessing it’s just so, as to not distract you from the music in an oohing, ahhing kind of way but still, understated and kind of disappointing.
And I suppose in hindsight, this works for a band like Keane, because you are waiting for the pomp and bombast from the band themselves and certainly in the strength of Chaplin’s voice. Sad but admittedly sappy ballads like ‘This is the Last Time’ (which brings me to tears nearly every time I hear it) and ‘We Might as Well Be Strangers’ flourish in this kind of environment, as to the newer and equally heartbreaking ‘Disconnected’: “We’ve been disconnected somehow / there’s an invisible wall between us now…” Oh god. If they could only see the tears I cry into my heart when I queue this song up. ‘Silenced by the Night’, another tearjerker, was chosen as the first single from ‘Strangeland’, and if the intention was to tug at the heartstrings, they’ve done it right. “Ohhhhhh…you and I, we’re gonna rise again…” Just epic.
But this is not to say that they don’t do upbeat and up tempo well. Nothing could be farther from the truth. ‘Sovereign Light Cafe’, revealed by Chaplin on this night to be his favourite among the songs of ‘Strangeland’, dazzled in its energy; it’s an actual cafe in Bexhill-on-Sea that will be inundated with Keane fans wanting photographed, if it hasn’t already been mobbed. So did ‘On the Road’, a driving number which serves as an optimistic pick me up to anyone who’s had a dream that seemed unreachable.
I think that’s one of many reasons I am a Keane fan; Rice-Oxley’s songwriting is unrivalled, he can write ballads that can make you cry just as equally well as those that can get you to raise your fists in a show of can do attitude. They have kept me company at some of my darkest moments, as if they understood and knew the pain I felt. Other times, they picked up me and dusted me off, only to encourage me to keep going, to remind me the sun would rise again tomorrow and I was really stronger than what I might have felt the day before. I sometimes worry that they won’t be playing much of ‘Perfect Symmetry’ in the future: they only played the title track (audience video below) and ‘Spiralling’ (which, admittedly, sounds laughable with all the combined “whoo!” provided by the audience), which leads me to believe that ‘experiment’ with synths is over and done with. Still though, if Rice-Oxley can keep this up and Chaplin continues as the charismatic frontman he’s always been, I can’t see anyone – not even Coldplay – ever matching their musical triumphs.
More and higher-res photos from this show can be viewed on my Flickr.
After the cut: set lists.
Continue reading Live Review: Keane with Mystery Jets at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 14th June 2012
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 13th June 2012 at 4:00 pm
Mystery Jets played a packed Academy of Arts on the Thursday night of this year’s Liverpool Sound City. Here are two of the sons they performed: ‘Show Me the Light’, from 2010’s ‘Serotonin’, and an old favourite, ‘Behind the Bunhouse’, which they used to close out their set. Enjoy both below.
You can read about this performance, along with the others I caught on the first night of the festival, here.