Live Review: Brad Hoshaw; those CD reviews…

Category: Blog — @ 12:30 pm August 20, 2008

It was a warm, perfect summer evening at Lauritzen Gardens last night. Their makeshift stage is a patio behind the main building where a two-peaked white tent sheltered Brad Hoshaw from the setting sun. Brad looked like a grizz hunter with a guitar, playing solo acoustic in front of 300 or do picnic-ers sitting in the grass eating grapes and cheese, wine and PBR. The PA sounded remarkably good; so did Hoshaw though his set was back-loaded with a few too many slow, somber numbers, which Brad is known for but tell that to the nearby 2-year-old twins who were getting restless. After 45 minutes, I began to regret not bringing a picnic basket — the smell of nearby grub was killing us.

Fink came out to sing a duet that Hoshaw said he wrote for her a couple years ago. It was a pretty song that falls nicely within the Hoshaw canon, with a chorus that went “That was so long ago/Now we’re growing old/The kids are stealing our rock and roll.” Brad played for at least an hour and included covers by both Kyle Harvey (the one he always plays) and Twilight Singers (something I hadn’t heard before and though I like Twilight Singers, if you don’t have the initials GD it’s going to be a real rollercoaster ride). We contemplated what song we’d like to hear Hoshaw cover, and it was my cohort who came up with the perfect tune — “Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins, a song that we both love but that were sure Hoshaw would never sing because he’d think that it’s “not cool enough.” Ah, but he’d be wrong.

The evening turned out to be more of a Hoshaw showcase than Orenda showcase due to timing. At 7:15 the organizers were still fiddledicking around with sound and staging, and I knew we weren’t going to make it through even half of her set. Finally, Orenda came on at 7:25 (the concert, which started at 6, was scheduled to end at 8), accompanied by Art in Manila bandmate Adrianne Verhoeven. We made it through three songs before hunger got the best of us. By then about a third of the crowd had left, including a few that were probably headed to CB for My Morning Jacket at Stir Cove. Overall, a nice night, though we should have brought food along…

* * *

I told you the Reader was going to launch their CD reviews this week, and here they are — with the first batch written by me. The plan is to have all of the Reader Music All Stars contribute reviews in the coming weeks (I’m told they’ll run monthly until the Reader gets its scheduling act together, and then they’ll run more frequently). Unlike Lazy-i reviews, these will be rated on a five-star system vs. the usual yes/no rating, which seemed too draconian for The Reader. That said, all five of these albums would get “yes” ratings.

Albums are rated on the usual five-star scale, where you’re suggested to avoid those with one star and deify those with five.

The Faint, Faciinatiion (blank .wav) — It’s no wonder that the album’s best song, “The Geeks Were Right,” also is the most straightforward and least dependent on technology to “make it sound different.” You see, I like frontman Todd Fink’s voice just the way it is. And with all of the electronic bleep-blooping going on elsewhere, Dapose’s opening guitar riff feels downright organic. But a straight-up rock band is not what the throngs of stylish, sweaty youth are looking for. Give them the robot-voiced dance machine with its dense bass and thump-thump-thump rhythms. They want to bounce, not think. What are they singing about? Who cares as long as there’s a thick-ass beat and plenty of strobes. Which makes me wonder what would happen if these guys stepped away from the synths, vocoders and effects pedals and picked up traditional instruments once again. They could be that great rock band we’ve all been waiting for, if they wanted to be. But they never will, not now, not when they don’t have to. With a slew of classics already in their quiver, it makes you wonder why they even bother making new CDs in the first place. Rating: 3 stars.

Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst (Merge) — It differs from Bright Eyes in its more minimal production, though it’s far from stripped down (just Mogis-less). Song wise, it’s not a stretch at all, though Oberst does seem more relaxed, even resolved to his stricken condition of being ordained the rambling “voice of his generation.” Call him that if you want to; he’s not listening. Unlike Lifted or Wide Awake, there’s no need to block off your afternoon or give it your undivided attention to enjoy it. Like he says on album opener “Cape Canaveral”: “There’s no worries, who’s got time?” No one, Conor, no one. And while there’s nothing as striking as, say, “Lua” or “Waste of Paint” or “I Must Belong Somewhere,” it has its moments of absolute clarity, including country stomper “I Don’t Want to Die (in the Hospital)” and rock anthem “Souled Out!!!” Oberst is too smart to do either. Rating: 4 stars.

Shiver Shiver, Soulless Sex Appeal (self-release) — I liken their band-nerd music to a warm, soothing embrace by someone you just met — it’s inviting but at the same time, awkward and a little unnerving. Certainly you want to hold onto their sound — keyboard and drums that have more in common with funk ‘n’ jazz than rock ‘n’ roll. Frontman Jordan Elsberry is an Omaha version of Joe Jackson but without Joe’s interesting stories. Jordan’s voice is soothing, even sexy in a geeky sort of way, but you won’t remember a single secret that he whispered in your ear once you’ve left the dance floor. The honest album title couldn’t be more accurate. Rating 3 stars.

Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City) — The album can be summed up in one perfect song: “San Francisco B.C.,” where drawling frontman David Berman croons a story of a break-up with a “local martyr in the vegan press,” a crime story that finds our hero “in the possession of burglary tools” only to confront the bad-haired murderer who orphaned his true love. Along the way there’s plenty of “fist cuisine” and “insignificant shit” and other tossed-out genius that makes this one song better than Tarantino’s last three films. Musically, it’s laid-back, rolling, countrified slacker rock, with Berman sounding like the second coming of Johnny Cash, and wife, Cassie, providing the June Carter harmonies. Rating: 4.5 stars.

Randy Newman, Harps and Angels (Nonesuch) — At age 64, Newman’s voice is starting to wind down, not because he can’t sing, but because he’s too damn lazy to. By the time he gets to center-point songs like the slice-of-life testimonial “Potholes,” he’s merely speaking the lyrics Kentucky colonel-style over the usual, lilting rag-time arrangements. Even then, he’s a better singer than most of the folks you’ll hear on the radio. Besides, songs like the snarky, dead-on “A few Words in Defense of Our Country,” with the lines “You know, a president once said / ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ / Now it seems like we’re supposed to be afraid / It’s patriotic, in fact / Color-coded” don’t exactly invite listeners to sing along as much nod knowingly. Rating: 3.5 stars.

Hey local bands, want your records reviewed? Send your CDs and vinyl to The Reader c/o “Reviews,” P.O. Box 7360, Omaha, NE 68107. While submissions will be considered, space limitations prevent all from being reviewed..

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