Column 228: Tilly, Conor and Michael; UUVVWWZ named Nebraska’s best (in Boston); Outlaw Con Bandana tonight…
As mentioned Monday, this week’s column is a comment about/review of last Friday night’s Anchor Inn show, which was a lot of fun. Last week’s Michael Jackson comment was tacked on the end for posterity’s sake…
Column 228: Anchors Aweigh
Tilly, Conor and Michael…
When we got to The Anchor Inn last Friday evening, one of the translucent openers that are currently touring with Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band was finishing a set of run-of-the-mill indie rock, followed by another in a series of droning bands fronted by women who sing like Cat Power.
Checking out the sparse crowd, I wondered if the show was going to be a bust. But it was early. Only about 50 people were crowded around the stage, while the rest meandered between the picnic tables carrying Bud Lights and pulled-pork sandwiches or wandered down to the river that acts as a backdrop to the Anchor Inn’s massive stage.
Things picked up, though, as the sun dropped and Tilly and the Wall began its set. The open patch of grass between the stage and picnic tables was butt-to-belly packed. Tilly guitarist/vocalist Derek Pressnall announced from stage that the band hadn’t played a show since last August, but you wouldn’t have known it from listening to them. Tilly sounded tight as a tic, as if they’d just come off a two-month tour.
The band’s numbers have ballooned to seven, but it wasn’t the only thing about Tilly to “balloon.” Making assumptions about a woman being in “the family way” can be dangerous, but Jamie Pressnall made the guesswork easy, thanks to her dress that bore a print of a large smiling fetus, complete with umbilical chord.
Jamie usually is the band’s centerpiece, eagerly tap dancing above the rest of the cheer team on top of a microphoned “tap box.” But with a baby on board, she instead replicated her tap-shoe rhythms by tapping sticks on a drum rim. She disappeared altogether during the end of crowd favorite “Beat Control,” only to return — dancing — for the rest of the set. Will Tilly go on hiatus while the new band member arrives?
After a half-hour between bands, Oberst and Co. finally took the stage with Conor wearing a crazy black oversized Amish hat that made him look like the boy Samuel from the film Witness. Where’s Harrison Ford when you need him? About halfway through the set I realized I was hearing essentially the same thing I’d heard in April at Slowdown.
Mystic Valley is a natural evolution for Oberst — a midlife crisis for a guy pushing 30. Lyrically, he seems to be reaching for meaning in the most random, benign things, only managing to be profound in slogan-like spurts rather than sweeping narrative arcs. Sure, the Mystic Valley stuff is probably a lot more fun to play, but it’s also a lot less relevant.
Between songs, fans yelled song titles, which Oberst kindly deflected with a smile and a “we don’t know that one,” responding to the perennial Bright Eyes requests. It got me thinking about the Chris Norris-penned article in the last issue of Rolling Stone that solved a couple mysteries, sort of. The story said the next Bright Eyes album will “close the door” on that band. The comment isn’t a surprise, and I believe Oberst actually believes it. He’ll probably walk away from his Bright Eyes material… for a few years.
But don’t think you’ve heard the last of “Poison Ivy” or “Bowl of Oranges” or “Lua” or whatever. Oberst will retool those songs with a different band, blurring the line between projects. He is, after all, the guy who wrote those Bright Eyes songs as well as most of the Mystic Valley tunes. He can play whatever he wants with whomever he wants. I can’t imagine that he’d place a permanent, self-imposed ban on performing some of his best-written material. Oberst has never been the kind of guy to build impenetrable walls, especially around himself.
Like a lot of articles about Oberst, the RS piece tried to define him as the stereotypically lonely, wandering artist, searching for something in life to anchor to. It’s a convenient cliché, and like all clichés and stereotypes, it’s true until you stare at it long enough and realize there’s an even better truth beneath the surface. In the end, Oberst will disappoint Norris and the rest of them. He’ll find a serious girlfriend (if he hasn’t already), he’ll have kids, he’ll enter the next chapter of his life and feel a new comfort in family and friends. He’ll get a dog. He’ll grow up. He’ll quit wandering. And his writing will be better for it.
* * *
Speaking of mortality, I would be remiss to not pass along a bit of news that seems to have escaped the attention of the national media: Michael Jackson died last week.
Even in an indie haunt like The Slowdown last Thursday night, there was an underlying buzz about MJ’s passing. The discussion: Will another music performer ever reach the same heights of global deification as Jacko? In this new world of multi-media multi-channel multi-message communication, the answer is no. You’ve seen the last King of Pop. There is no room for royalty in a musical democracy where anyone can listen to anything anytime.
Jackson first and foremost was a performer. Unlike Springsteen or Prince or The Beatles, he wasn’t known as a musician and he only wrote about a third of his songs (which included some of the best tunes on Thriller). Elvis was a performer. Sinatra was a performer. And though American Idol is designed to generate more and more performers, we’ll see fewer and fewer, and none that will equal the stature of those who came before them.
So here’s my question: When Dylan’s time comes, will he get as much attention as Jacko is now?
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The Boston Phoenix released its annual Best New Bands in America list, where they declare the best new band from each state. This year’s winner from Nebraska is UUVVWWZ. Their reason: “Someone hasn’t forgotten that you can royally fuck with melody, hooks, and any semblance of a vocal narrative and still have a buttload of incredible punk-funk jams on your hands.” Check out the full list here.
It appears that the staff made the choice amongst themselves (Here’s the selection guidelines), though I know that The Reader was among those contacted by the paper’s editor, Lance Gould, asking for feedback. Last year’s winner, btw, was Tilly and the Wall.
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Outlaw Con Bandana is playing a last-minute show tonight at The Waiting Room with Fancie. $7, 9 p.m.
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