Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Woman A Man Walk By Is Haunting

Many of my favorite albums encompass a sense of atmosphere – a unique presence of place that can remove you from wherever you are and quite literally take you somewhere else. At their best, PJ Harvey owns a strange darkness on her albums, a darkness that is palpable in her live performances. Live she becomes a dominant, unnerving, and terrible force, one that is both intimidating and surreal. In short, Ms. Harvey is a force of nature, and a force to be reckoned with.

Longtime producer John Parish, who previously collaborated with Harvey on 1996's Dance Hall at Louse Point and produced 1995’s To Bring You My Love through 2007’s White Chalk works with Harvey here as a full partnership. The new album A Man A Woman Walked By is a full collaboration between Parish and Harvey, with Parish providing the music and Harvey the lyrics and vocals.

The results of this collaboration are a bit uneven, yet often produce stunning results. Opener (and best song on the album) “Black Hearted Love” rips open big, sickly, quivering distorted guitars, and sounds very much like “Woke Up In A Strange Place” by Jeff Buckley (when I say it sounds very much like, I mean almost identically - at least the riff anyway). This is the high point of the album, a spectral beauty that sweeps through with all the mystery, clout, and just plain darkness as other Harvey classics like “Angelene”, “Horses In My Dreams” or “I Can Hardly Wait”. This is the “worth the price of admission” track that makes the album worth purchasing. I include the lyrics here because I think they can say it better than I can:

I think I saw you in the shadows

I move in closer beneath your windows

Who would suspect me of this rapture?

And who but my black hearted love

And who but my black hearted love

When you call out my name in rapture

I volunteer my soul for murder
I wish this moment here forever

And you are my black hearted love

And you are my black hearted love

In the rain, in the evening
I will come again
I'd like to take you
I'd like to take you to a place
I know
My black hearted

Other noteworthy moments are the haunting stomp of the title track; the broken blues of "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen", and the magnificent closer "Cracks in the Canvas" are all excellent as well.

This isn’t the best PJ Harvey record, but it sure is an interesting side jaunt.

The Verdict: (a very solid) 2.5 out of 5 stars.

PS - OK, I tried to only include a link to this video, but I can't. So here it is:

Away We Go Looks Good

Away We Go has a cool poster, and the trailer looks good too. Check it out here.

Glasvegas Take Atlanta, America

Anyone who knows me, or has read my blog in the past 6 months, knows that I am crazy about Glasvegas. You may remember me posting about them here or here or here or here or here. Again, Glasvegas are from Glasgow, Scotland (Glasgow + Las Vegas = Glasvegas) and are currently my favorite band in the world. Or as my brother in law would say it – “they are my favorite band in the world - flat out”.

Last week we went down to Atlanta to see them at The Loft. The Loft is a pretty cool split level venue, where three separate bars are stacked on top of one another, allowing three distinct bands to play simultaneously – while we were there for Glasvegas, Josh Ritter and Gomez were also playing – it would be great if you could buy a split ticket, because I would pay to see all three of them. Anyway, The Loft is very small and intimate, allowing you to be within eye contact with whomever is on stage from anywhere in the place. Awesome.

The Atlanta show was only the third show of the tour – they have played NYC several times, opening for Echo & the Bunnymen for their epic Ocean Rain gigs at Radio City Music Hall, but this is only their third “solo” show as a headliner in the US. Glasvegas had just come off their triumphant performance at the prestigious and all important SXSW gigs, where they were voted the best live performance of the entire festival. Pretty hefty accolades all around. I’ve watched them on YouTube a million times (and seen their power live), but never been witness to them in person – needless to say I was pretty excited.

After half paying attention to opener Ida Maria (more on them later) we made our way up to the front of the stage. The lights went black, and the familiar sounds of the “Where The Streets Have No Name”-ish organ filled the space. Lights flashed all around, and the crowd lit up as Glasvegas walked on stage – all in black, James Allen wearing his now trademark Wayfarers, as cool as cool gets.

The opening chords of “Geraldine” tore through the space, and off we went, with the roar of a jet plane we collectively took off. With beauty and ferocity they ripped through most of their one and only debut, in a set list that went:

Lonesome Swan
It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry
Polmont On My Mind
F U It’s Over

SAD Light
Ice Cream Van
Flowers And Football Tops
Go Square Go
Please Come Back Home
Daddy’s Gone

The entire set was fantastic, a few highlights: SAD Light, which James took his guitar off and sang with abandon, veins bulging out of his neck, Boss-style; album throwaway Ice Cream Van became transformed live into a U2-sized epic, full of huge crescendos and whisper-to-a-scream theatrics; Flowers and Football Tops was exactly the stadium worthy anthem I expected it to be; the rush of singing with the crowd on Go Square Go; the swell of tears welling up in my eyes as James and Rab alone under blue lights for encore Please Come Back Home; and finally the cathartic wave of closer Daddy’s Gone. So, so many highlights for a set of only 11 songs.

For a band with only one album and EP, this was a heroic set – nearly every song would serve as an excellent encore. The performances from the band were incendiary from the moment they took the stage. Rab (lead guitar) and Paul (bass) were like two bulls in a ring, stomping towards each other, heads down, guitar necks swinging. Drummer Caroline stands up the entire show, pounding the toms with the force of a sledgehammer, while James fronts the whole thing like a true frontman, all Cash meets Strummer meets Springsteen meets Bono intensity. This band means it - every note, every word is delivered like their lives depend on it.

When the set ended James shook the hand of every guy and kissed every girl in the front row. It was a sincere gesture from a band that truly appreciated the support of its fans. Shortly after the set ended, we met Caroline at the merchandise table, who posed for a picture and couldn’t be nicer to us, thanking us for coming multiple times. We wound up outside, hanging out with a bunch of very, very cool Scottish and English people who had flown to America to see Glasvegas in a small venue, as in the UK they couldn’t see them anywhere under an 8,000 person arena. After waiting for a time, the lead singer of Ida Maria came out, and the pair of Scottish guys rushed after her, asking if she would pose for a picture. She snarled at them, turned up her nose and walked off. Wow, OK, I’m going to say it outright – Ida Maria sucks.

Suddenly Paul (the bass player) popped out the side door, so cool in his Beatle-boots and Elvis-pompadour. He was so friendly and wound up standing out on the sidewalk and talking to us for over an hour. I mentioned to him that I thought James looks like Ian McCulloch from Echo & The Bunnymen, and he told me that he had never thought of that, but that seeing the Bunnymen at SXSW was the highlight of his SXSW experience. So awesome.

A while later Rab came out, a big, hulking Scotsmen. Again, so friendly and disarmingly nice. But James was the best – so effortlessly charismatic. He came down and hung out with all of us, thanking us sincerely for coming, telling me he’s going away to write demos later in the year, talking about how odd it is to see an audience of Americans singing Daddy’s Gone in unison. After hanging out for a while, the tour manager came over to give him the hook, dragging him away. Before leaving he gave each of us a hug, kissed my wife’s cheek, and off he went into the night. It was one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had. I loved this band before, but now I feel like I know them, like I am even more connected to the music. They have my eternal loyalty. Enjoy the live vids, as you can hear me singing my head off in the background of them! Buy the record, you won’t be sorry.

PS - they are on Jimmy Fallon tomorrow, Monday the 30th. Check them out.