Questions for today
Is there any better lunch than a roast chicken sandwich, the chicken a half-inch thick and treated liberally with Foreplay seasoning from the Dinosaur BBQ of Syracuse and Harlem fame?Is there any better corresponding beverage than a 2nd overdue cup of coffee and then a Samuel Adams that's been brought up from fridge-temperature but isn't yet at room-temperature?Is there any better album for a rainy day in Brooklyn than Miles Davis's Kind of Blue? Is there any better track than #4, "All Blues"?Is there any better plan than writing emails to friends and working on one's novel until the beer is gone and night falls, then going to a New Englandish cafe and wine bar just off of Union Square, to continue the writing, people-watch, and have a nightcap?No, no, no, no, no.
Concert Review: Erin McKeown (the Winterpills opening), Southpaw @ 125 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 11/20/05
Let’s see how many words we can last before Ani DiFranco comes up in discussing Erin McKeown (Mick-KAY-winn) ’s amped-up singer-songwriter’s craft and delivery. Nine, ten if you count the contraction. So let’s get the similarities over and done with: McKeown has a very DiFranco-esque live delivery, especially when she holds the stage on her own and taps out a smug bassline through the silence of the rapt, to-capacity crowd. As she grooves, she would look like a swan attempting to pull her head down between her shoulderblades if it weren’t for the look on her face: a half-smile and her eyes closed. Music-wise, McKeown’s portraits of college remembrances and lounge-act novelty songs about a lover from Rhode Island don’t have the same knotty quality DiFranco’s songs do: McKeown’s songs are more straight-on firecrackers than timed, staccato explosions: they don’t play with rhythm and don’t layer back on themselves melodically, etc. etc...But let’s set down the DiFranco thread of this review right now, because McKeown stands alone as one of the more literate young singer-songwriters having lighters ignited before her across this land’s various Brooklyns. She has behind her two just stellar backing musicians, who’s names I couldn’t take down thanks to my clapping: the female drummer had chops the likes of which I’ve only seen once before, in a band called Elf Power, which opened for Wilco one November 2001 at the Town Hall. This drummer, McKeown’s, has the best sort of precision in her whaling away away on the skins, and was generally just a fascinating sight—she had sort of a Pebbles Flintstone aspect about her, which I can’t bear out with physical evidence—just an impression I have. And on the keyboards, a guy resembling Jason Lee in his “My Name Is Earl” persona: this guy never got to cut loose, although he’s good enough with the jazzy mellotron effect that Donald Fagen might think to himself that here’s a fellow to put in the Rolodex for the next Steely Dan LP’s sessions, perhaps. So a strong set overall from McKeown. She’s a promising artist whose overall aesthetic is still in negotiation between her various forebears. If Ani DiFranco was a 1 on a scale and Aimee Mann was a 10—and these numbers aren’t value judgments—McKeown is the solid 5 between them. Plus, there’s a strong chanteusy element on the songs sans backing, in which McKeown bobs and weaves her way through some decidedly smoky stuff—what Jeremy of Sports Night, speaking of girlfriend Natalie, called “a slow sip of whiskey.” Smoky Erin McKeown. Both of these personas are promising, and their differences don’t detract from each other, but this writer can’t wait for the two personas to fuse for good as they did in the 3rd encore. This song began with a solo Erin mewling about various natural flora and fauna being aloft: “Don’t land,” she cooed, “don’t land.” With a chorus of “Hallelujah”, distinct from the famed and perfect L. Cohen composition further perfected by J. Buckley and then later R. Wainwright, that instruction to not land shows its metaphorical import and hooks itself into you, or did me. Then once she’s turned away into the silence and then the great roar of all of us watching and listening, out come the drummer and keyboardist, plus the two main vocalists from fine openers The Winterpills about whom more in a second, McKeown launches back into “The Hallelujah Song” with everything turned up to 11, the drummer’s pounding forearms mirrored blurs, everyone up there harmonizing, the same melodic exhortation to not land Hallelujahing out from the stage at us, and, well. It was a moment. McK’s Jekyll and Hyde came together in the space of those five minutes and it became clear that one day soon McKeown isn’t going to sound quite like anyone, and no one will sound like her. And what about those Winterpills, anyway? Great name, first of all. It’s the handiest key to describing what they’re all about: a warm alt-country five-piece from Northampton, MA, a photogenic mien, and harmonies that would make the Byrds remember that time they were on Ed Sullivan. Their lyrics aren’t there yet—one opening verse rhymed glove with love, which is NEVER OK: don’t you remember Kirk Van Houten’s debut album “Can I Borrow A Feeling” from The Simpsons? Come on! But the melodies are. The Winterpills succeed best when they’ve made it to the chorus: that’s when the lead singer and Bjork-looking co-lead-singer combine their voices just so, usually falsettoes, and keen away like a jetstream of rare air blowing high above but not unaware of the driving beat below it. Winterpills songs visually rendered would be, on a blank landscape-setup page of white, a light blue horizontal bar toward the top, this representing the vocals, and below that a complex perspective of beige and a shade I will have to call overturned earth. And somewhere in this field there is a house, and in the window you can tell there’s a fire going. There’s an “Everything sounds like Coldplay now” concern implicit in this high-harmonics-cum-anthemic-guitar-choruses sound, especially when you factor in the echoey electric Fender the guy who looks like Ethan Embry was swaying with up there to stage left: “Want the One” is the same cadence and chordal progressions as “Yellow”. But standout song “Laughing” takes an Arcade Fire-y disco beat and a plaintive turn of melody Ryan Adams was too wasted to come up with himself and gets you to sing along, no matter how few vodka tonics you’ve had or who’s standing next to you.