Friday, November 15, 2013

Favorite Song? Be serious.

A friend asked me earlier today (or she may have asked last night, either way, I got the message this morning) what my favorite Matt Nathanson song is.  For another person (besides me), or another artist, this might be a simple question.  For example, my favorite Matchbox Twenty song is "Long Day" from Yourself or Someone Like You.  That's right, a song from their debut album grabbed me, latched on and, sadly, they've never topped it for me.  Not so with Matt.  Why, you ask?  Don't his songs latch on?  Of course they do!  They get a good hard grip on you and these suckers do not let go, they embed themselves and become part of your permanent soundtrack, part of your fabric.  It's because he keeps getting better.  Every single album he releases one-ups the last one.  I don't know how he does it.

Even so, I came up with an answer right away, then I changed my mind 8 times, then I circled back around to my original impulse.  Let me preface this by saying, that I really do like all of Matt's songs and I can honestly say that I love the vast majority of them.  But I was asked to pick a favorite, so here goes my thought process.

The first song that popped in my head was "Annie's Always Waiting  (For the Next One to Leave)" and I almost replied to her immediately with that, but something stopped me.  What was it?  Well, Matt's entire catalogue weighed on my mind and songs that I had loved fiercely long before "Annie" was ever written.

There are so many amazing songs here to choose from, it's almost impossible to pick just one.  I mean, I can put my entire Nathanson collection on shuffle and I know I will not go wrong at any turn.  I'm naturally inclined toward the powerful songs that make me feel the feels, such as "Little Victories", "Weight of It All", and "Bulletproof Weeks".  They're all so beautiful and I can listen to them at absolutely any time.  I can always just how "favorite" a song really is by how often I skip it and I really never skip these, ever.

Then there is "Pretty the World", which has one of my favorite arrangements of any of Matt's songs.  When that song drops into the chorus, it just does something to me that I can't explain.  It's impossible not to physically react to this song.  He played this song the first time I saw him headline and I'm telling you, this song actually makes the world a better place.  Stunning.

So after all that rambling, I think I've come down to my top 5 favorite Matt Nathanson songs: 
5. Car Crash
4. Heart Starts
3. Kiss Quick (this one is still hands down, bar none my absolute favorite song to hear him perform live - it is a religious experience)
2. Mercy
1. Annie's Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave)

So you see, I ended up with my first impulse.  After all this pondering and deliberating, I think it's okay to call this song off the newest record my favorite, right?  I mean, love the shit out of this song for a multitude of reasons.  First off, you have Aaron Tap counting off to start it, then the thing just explodes out of the speakers like a physical being.  There are drums all over the damn place and an infectious, insistent guitar that demands affection.  This song is more along the line of the type of music I grew up listening to, it sounds like home to me.  Then, there's the lyrics.  You know that line in "Bitter Sweet Symphony": "I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me"?  That's what this song does.  Somehow, I feel like this song knows me, it exposes deep wounds, and yet it still somehow makes me feel better about everything all at the same time.  Every time I listen to it, the music, the lyrics, the whole thing...I feel like it was written just for me, and that, my friends, is the magic of a truly great song. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Southeastern - Jason Isbell

Album: Southeastern
Artist: Jason Isbell

At some point, a couple of months ago I guess, someone (it was most likely Matt Nathanson, but I can't swear to that) mentioned on twitter about how "Elephant" from Jason Isbell's recent release, Southeastern, is such an amazing song.  Seems like I bought the song that same day, or at least very soon after, and I was blown away.  I was not familiar with Jason Isbell prior to hearing "Elephant", so I had no idea what to expect.  The song is heart wrenching and beautiful and I was a complete mess by the time it was over.  So, naturally, I listened to it about five times in a row.

A few weeks later we went to my new favorite local record store and there was Southeastern on vinyl up on the wall.  After the effect that first song had on me and all the good things I had heard about the album in the meantime, I snatched it right up.  I have read a few reviews and articles about it since I got it and I've seen the record called his "sobriety record" and his "honeymoon record".  Apparently the writing/recording of the album chronologically coincides with Jason's quitting drinking and getting married.  So of course everyone and their brother has to label it the "sobriety record".  Well, forget that shit.  Don't get wrong, I don't mean to marginalize sobriety, I understand what a struggle it can be and I do not intend to undermine the huge accomplishment that it is, but still, I don't think it's fair to pigeonhole this album and label it that way.  This record is so much more than that.

Simply put, Southeastern is a beautiful record about life.  It's a wonderful collection of songs that chronicle life, love, loss and hope.  Somehow, even though it is clear that the lyrics are telling personal stories, they're crafted in such a way that anyone could relate to them no matter what their story.  Take me for instance, alcohol plays no part in my life - the last time I clearly remember having a drink was in New Orleans in November, 2012.  I may have had something since then, maybe not, I really don't know, so clearly sobriety isn't an issue for me, but when I listen to this record, I hear every line, every note, and it all gets in and works it's magic.   It's because the themes he deals with here are universal in the grand scheme of things.  We all deal with the passage of time, the necessity to grow up and move on, the need for love in our lives.  It's all here and it is all dealt with so perfectly.

I would be remiss if I focused only on the lyrics and neglected to mention the beautiful arrangements on the album.  I was first struck by "Cover Me Up" - the guitar in that song is just devastating.  Then there is the absolutely beautiful fiddle playing on "Traveling Alone" by Amanda Shires (er...Amanda Isbell...remember someone called it a "honeymoon record"? Yep, this is where that comes in).  A lot of the album is pretty quiet, but the amps are definitely given a run for their money on "Super 8", just in case we forgot they were there. Even what might be run of the mill acoustic guitar strumming on another record is taken to another level on Southeastern.  The music is intricate and haunting and layers perfectly with the lyrics.  Every time I listen to it (which has been many, many times at this point), I hear something new and wonderful. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dr. Dog @ Headliners Music Hall 11/02/2013

Artist: Dr. Dog (with guest Benny Yurco and the Revealers)
Venue: Headliners Music Hall, Louisville, KY
Date 11/02/2013

Once again, I didn't take this pic (I'm sticking to my no phone at concerts policy), we were a bit closer than this, but this was basically our view

Set List: (I know that this is dismally out of order, I always think at the time that I'll be able to remember the order, but that's a pipe dream, (furthermore, I'm not even 100% certain if The Beach was in the encore or the regular set list, I just know they played it), but I feel like it's pretty complete regardless)
1. The Truth*
2. Heavy Light*
3. Broken Heart
4. That Old Black Hole
5. Say Something
6. The Breeze
7. Hang On
8. Oh No
9. These Days
10. Stranger
11. How Long Must I Wait
12. Races
13. Too Weak to Ramble
14. Cuckoo
15. Love
16. The Beach
17. Wake Up
18. Heart It Races
19. Jackie Wants a Black Eye*
20. Lonesome*
21. The Way The Lazy Do*
22. The Beach
23. Rock & Roll
24. Die, Die, Die
25. The Rabbit, The Bat and The Reindeer*

*These I know are in the right place.

You know how with a lot of things in life, the anticipation of it turns out to be better than the actual event?  Yeah, well, a Dr. Dog concert is most definitely not one of those things.  We hit Headliners Music Hall in Louisville last night for the second time in two weeks to see Dr. Dog and they absolutely blew the roof off the place, as expected.  It had been a little (15 days) less  than a year since we saw them last and, if I have any say in it, it won't be that long before we see them again.  They are so good live that's it's absolutely astounding.
Their openers, Benny Yurco and the Revealers were a fun, eclectic five piece band.  Their playing was a little loose and jangly, but they had the attention of the audience and they put on a good show.  We had decided to go up to the balcony for this show, so we had a cool looking-down-on-them kind of view of this show.  The Revealers had a very intricate percussion section that was fun to watch from above.  I wasn't familiar with their music before the show, but you didn't need to be in order to dance along to it and enjoy it, and that's the hallmark of a good opening band. They did one cover, You Just Keep Me Hangin' On by The Supremes (or Vanilla Fudge, or Kim Wilde) and the crowd really got into it.  They seemed a tad bit stifled by the tiny space they had available on what is already a small stage, but they made it work and I thought they did a good set.  After that, we got to watch the guys disassemble The Revealers' equipment and set up for Dr. Dog.  It was a pretty involved process that took over 30 minutes, but it was cool, the anticipation was just building the whole time.
Finally, it was time for the main event and they came out and opened with The Truth off their new album B-Room.  It went over pretty well and proved that lots of people in the crowd already own and know the new record, which was cool.  But things didn't get really cranked up until they laid into Heavy Light from Be the Void.  This is when the crowd really got drawn in and began that bobbing in unison thing that happens at every Dr. Dog show.  I knew once it started that it wouldn't stop until the lights came up, and I was right.  They turned Heavy Light into an amazing acid-rock inspired jam session that was quite heavy indeed.  It's a great song made even better last night by their embellishments.  The set list included several favorites off Be the Void which I was pretty excited about because I love the shit out of that record.  Once again they played That Old Black Hole (still my favorite), These Days and How Long Must I Wait?  All the songs from that album are huge crowd favorites and always get a great response. 
They also dipped back in their bag of tricks last night and pulled out Say Something and Oh No, both from 2005's Easy Beat and Heart it Races from the 2007 Architecture in Helsinki Heart it Races EP. All three songs proved that, young though they may be, this crowd was a bunch of long time Dr. Dog fans (or at least the kind of fans that have gone back and collected the older CDs).  It certainly wasn't only the new songs that were being appreciated last night.   However, my favorite moment of the night was when they played Too Weak to Ramble.  I had hoped for a slightly simpler arrangement on this one, I would have been happy with an acoustic guitar, Toby's voice and Scott's delicate harmonies, but we got a little more band involvement than that.  As it was, the crowd was a lost a little bit on this one and they got kind of chatty during this song.  That disappointed me because it was beautiful and powerful and I wish audiences these days could just be still (and shut up) for a second and appreciate a moment like that when it's given to them.  But, regardless of what everyone else was doing, I was right there with him.
One thing that I've come to realize is that there isn't a lot of chatting with the audience at a Dr. Dog concert.  They've come to play their songs and they let the music do all the talking for them.  Which is not to say they don't have any personality, because they do.  They're friendly and seem like nice guys, but they just get up there and play their guts out and go home, that's what we came to hear, that's what they came to do, end of story.  And it's a good thing I guess, because with a set list that size, if they were talkers, we'd still be there right now (although honestly, I'd be cool with that).  Problem is, they keep adding amazing records to their repertoire, but you can't neglect Fate or Shame, Shame just because B-Room wants some air time, right?  And they certainly didn't.  Last night, there was a little something for everybody and there was no reason anyone should have gone home unsatisfied.
They closed the show with Jackie Wants a Black Eye from Shame, Shame and Lonesome from Be the Void.  Both perfect closers and when one is followed by the other, we were really wondering what kind of encore they could possibly come out with after that.  I mean, both songs are huge and permeate the crowd and have them swaying together and screaming along to the refrains of "We're all in it together now, as we all fall apart!" and "What does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all!!"  How can you possibly follow that?  Well, if you're Dr. Dog, you follow it with a five song encore of some of their old favorites plus the one song off the new album that you know is going to over the best live, that's how.  After the audience screamed to the point that my left ear still hurts, they finally came back out and started the encore with The Way the Lazy Do from their 2007 release We All Belong.  I love that song!  How did they know?  Then there was The Beach which was really amazing live (I really think this was during the encore, but maybe I'm nuts, my brain was all scrambled on Dr. Dog awesomeness by this point), and the Dr. Dog live show classic Die, Die, Die from Takers and Leavers EP.  As always, we were thrilled to hear that one again.  Then Toby did an astoundingly energetic version of Rock & Roll from B-Room.  How he had that much energy left after such a long show, I'll never know, but it was incredible and the song was just as great live and I had hoped it would be when I heard it on vinyl the first time.  They closed the show with one of my all time favorites, Fate's The Rabbit, the Bat & the Reindeer.
Once again, it was just as mind blowing as I had hoped it would be.  Nothing existing while you're inside that venue except the music and the lights and the awesomeness taking place on stage.  When the show is over, you just want more, it's never enough, but when watching them perform, you know you've already gotten everything.  They leave it all on stage every night, I don't know how they do it.  And they are such talented musicians, just watching them play the intricate guitar parts on their songs for two hours is a treat for me.  Then add in the way they can trade instruments back and forth like it's nothing and you realize just how talented these guys really are.  The most fun was watching Scott and Toby interact on stage (or, I should say, effortlessly not interact).  They're both bouncing around all over the place and yet, somehow know where each other are all the time.  And even when they do make contact, it's not the collision you'd expect.  I mean, seriously, they literally stepped on each other's feet at one point and there was no stumbling or awkwardness.  I'm sure it comes from so many years of playing together and just being so comfortable on stage together, and it a joy to behold.  In fact, that pretty much sums up a Dr. Dog show, even the heavy parts, it is two solid hours of joy.