Live Thoughts: Billy Bragg at the Cedar + Burgerama at Turf Club
Two shows. Back to back nights. Both wildly entertaining, with each scratching a distinctly different itch.
Thursday night was Billy Bragg, who put on a two-plus hour show at the Cedar Cultural Center that was singer-songwriter nirvana. His political barbs and well-manicured stories had the sold-out, standing room only audience wrapped around his fingers. From his broadsides against the idiocy of our guns laws and healthcare system to his barbs about his home country giving him grief for “going country,” his banter provided some brevity between the amazing set he put together. From newer alt-country material (the beautiful “No One Knows Nothing,” the sweet “Handyman Blues”) to classic Woody covers (the fired up “All You Fascists Are Bound to Lose” and the mournful “I Ain’t got No Home”), Bragg and the four piece backing him up sounded fantastic. The end of the set was anchored by his “hits” “A New England ” and “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward,” with a stirring “Help Save the Youth of America” to close the show on a high note. It was a moving, poignant and powerful evening from one of the best songwriters of our time.
The next night, after being moved by the power of Billy Bragg, I was ready for something a bit lighter and decidedly more visceral, and the Burger Records Burgerama 2013 Caravan tour provided just that experience. Bringing about 38 bands that are connected to Burger Records in some regards to the Turf Club (OK, maybe more like 7), the show was a quick hit, fast paced journey through the various Burger-infused iterations of garage rock. From the jangly opening of Collen Green to the Velvet Underground/spaceman 3 noise-garage of The Cosmonauts, it was a jam packed evening that, like the releases on the label, showed the versatility and depth of a genre most known for its brutally simple structure. Memories and Together Pangea brought the more pop leaning, goofy side of the equation while Gap Dream got heady and heavy with their organ-guitar interplay, which lead perfectly into the spaced out Cosmonauts set that was the highlight of the evening. None of these bands were looking to reinvent the wheel, with each focusing in on simple grooves and power chords.
The two shows seemed to play off each other in a way that I hadn’t expected. Billy Bragg left me emotionally exhausted and spiritually uplifted, a legend who not only writes and performs amazing songs but is a powerful advocate for social change. I don’t think experiencing anything like that two straight nights would be good for me. But some loud three chord rock performed with various tweaks, with quick turnarounds between bands? That hit the spot. The gathered masses on Friday weren’t looking to change the world, they just wanted to get drunk, have some fun and hear some scrappy music, which when you are 22 may actually be a how you imagine you will change the world. Both shows proved uplifting and inspiring, their differences playing off each other to highlight how many different ways that music can really make an impact on peoples lives. Long live rock and roll.
TONIGHT: Burgerama at the Turf Club
Burger Records is a great record shop/label out of California that is the Robert Pollard of indie record labels. Prolific, talented and always well–intentioned, they have brought us everything from Ty Segall tapes to compilations benefiting animal shelters. Their latest endeavor (in addition to all their regular stuff), is the Burgerama Caravan tour, which grabs a bunch of bands who are associated with the label and takes them on the road. Their stop tonight is at the Turf Club, and you can sample a song from most of the bands who will be gracing the stage. Like the label, it skews garage-pop with variations between fuzzy, a little surf and some power-pop for good measure. Don’t miss out tonight—not sure you’ll see so many good bands on one (non-festival/block party) stage this year.
Blind Shake: “Key To A False Door” Review
The Blind Shake have been my favorite local band for something like eight years – but something that I have never really had an easy time reconciling in my mind has always been the dichotomy of the band’s on-stage versus off-stage presence. Off stage they seem like really fun guys who like to goof off and toss around a football. On stage they can be downright terrifying – all electrifying, hard-charging “seriousness” (to borrow the name of their last record). I have nearly been kicked in the face by Jim Blaha on numerous occasions.
I don’t just mention this to share my own experience of the band – but really more to illustrate a point that I think differentiates their newest record (their fourth) Key to a False Door from earlier work. At least to my ears, the band has never before sounded this much like they are having fun. And I don’t at all mean that there is some spurious, light-hearted aspect to False Door that imparts a kinder, gentler Blind Shake sound. By all means it is still pummeling, face-melting punk rock. And if you asked me to nail down precisely what it is in the album that conveys fun, I doubt I could give you specifics. It’s just a sensation really. There you have it.
However if you want a description of the album that doesn’t take into account my own ill-conceived gut reaction, here is this:
Key to a False Door is an album that in some ways adheres to the Blind Shake tradition of straight ahead, fuzzed-out punk songs with incredibly infectious rhythms. “Garbage on Glue’ is a terrific example of the BS at their most quintessential. However the new record also continues Seriousness’s theme of pushing beyond established boundaries.
There is a fair amount of range to the record. The vocals, for instance, vary considerably across the thirteen tracks. And from an overall perspective the band’s sound is harder to pin down. “Can’t Stand Life” sounds a little like it was recorded during tornado of far-out guitar distortion. Then there’s the sledgehammer cadence and spacey guitar of “Le Pasion,” that I might say reminded me of Ty Segall if I didn’t know that the BS predate Segall by half a decade. Or instrumental short “Flying Rabbit,” which has a sort of minimalist/industrial vibe. “Calligraphy” conjures 60’s psychedelia via a tambourine accompaniment. And that just covers a few of the tracks!
Some of the range in the band’s sound might be attributable to working/recording with (Thee Oh Sees’ record label) Castle Face for the first time. But most likely it’s primarily due to the band’s willingness to push at its boundaries by continually seeking out new and interesting sounds. Seriousness was a great first step in that direction and Key to a False Door is an even bigger one. And even if I am way off about the “fun” aspect I hear in this record – I still like to imagine that the band, ten years into its career, are finding ways to have a good time with the process.
If you want to have some fun yourself, they’ll be no better time this Saturday night than the Blind Shake’s record release show at the Turf Club.
Key to A False Door will be available via castle Face and local proprietors on September 17th. But the official release will take place at 9pm on 9/8 at the Turf Club.
Sativa Flats: Preview/Residency
“Hi, I’m Sativa Flats. You may remember me from bands such as Vampire Hands, Daughters of the Sun, Heavy Deeds, Synchrocyclotron, The Chambermaids…” It may be Troy McClure’s shtick, but it rings true with these four band members, all of whom have been in an impressive number of local bands over the past years. As Sativa Flats the quartet (Chris Rose, Bennet Johnson, Scott Watson and Neil Weir) Sativa Flats play dreamy, understated psychedelia that combines gauzy acoustic guitar, drum machine beats, and vocals, all through a filter of a rag soaked with chloroform. You can preview a couple of the band’s works below and catch them live every Wed. of August at the Turf Club (including TONIGHT).