October, 2010 Archives


Plants and Animals in La La Land

by Lefort in Music

Will someone please check the water in Montreal?  What the heck is going on up there?  The number of fantastique bands and songwriters resident in Montreal is, how you say, formidable!  Is there a Montreal band alive that can resist penning statuesque anthems and stirring ballads?  Certainly not Plants and Animals.

We had heard a few cuts off of Plants and Animals’ debut album, “Parc Avenue,” with its more-acoustic themes.  Their debut had caused critics to forehead-slap themselves and wonder how they could have possibly missed the next pysch-folk greats.  Two years later (during that phenomenal May 2010 release deluge) , follow-up album “La La Land” was delivered in comparatively less prosaic, rock n’ roll garb.  There are far fewer steel-stringed meanderings this time around.  Instead we hear echoes of fellow Montreal residents, Arcade Fire, on a track or two (Tom Cruz and Game Shows,) circa-70s’ Rolling Stones moments (American Idol–replete with sax from that era), and other apt rock influences and permutations (including Grizzly Bear and Built to Spill).   Some have voiced disappointment in this trend, but we respect the evolutionary ways of the band and recognize the continued songwriting acumen and passion in their music.   There are lots of crunching guitar riffs and hooks aplenty, and though the indie gestalt is clear there are elements of what the band has referred to as “post-classic rock” or “barbecue rock.”   “We made a conscious decision to make a rock record,” says Matthew Woodley of Plants And Animals.   OK, done.  And done well.

Check out the great Tom Cruz and Kon Tiki below and then the band performing Game Shows and Undone Melody live on KEXP way below.

Plants and Animals–Tom Cruz

They kick it up a notch on this record opener.  The band has said:  “[Tom Cruz] was a song that came together in pieces; the title actually came before the lyrics.  We were super excited to be working again. We weren’t even worried if we recorded anything, because we were just having fun. We felt this overwhelming, manic happiness and confidence. Our drummer titled that song as if we were Tom Cruise, hopping up and down on that couch on Oprah.”

[audio:https://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/01-Tom-Cruz.mp3|titles=01 Tom Cruz]

Plants and Animals–Kon Tiki

The band has said about Kon Tiki:  “Kon Tiki is a motel on a side of a cliff [in Pismo Beach for you Central Coasters] we stayed in between San Francisco and Los Angeles on a day off. The whole song is about hanging out there.”  Imagine the song they could write if they stayed instead at the Madonna Inn or at Ventana.  Their next concept-record?

[audio:https://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/05-Kon-Tiki.mp3|titles=05 Kon Tiki]

And check out the band in this KEXP video doing their song Game Shows, in which they roar like some Grizzly Bear, but with some great alternative embellishments.  Too bad we just missed them in LA.

And finally, check out their performance of Undone Melody

We love the slow build into anthem at 2:30.  We like the refrains:  “Something’s coming, something’s coming” and “All that you undo is all that you want to.”  Simple, but powerful, while the song structure and delivery remind us some of Built to Spill.


Les Shelleys–French Translation: Boundless Talent and Charm

by Lefort in Music

We caught up with Les Shelleys last night at Soho and were treated to an updated and energized delivery by the “old soul” duo of Tom Brosseau and Angela Correa.  The separated-at-birth harmonies remain from their prior visits, along with the obvious joy in playing together and Brosseau’s always-apt guitar accompaniment (he does apropos minimalism as well as anybody in the business).  But what’s new is a more emphatic and confident stage presence as a duo and Angie’s winning hand-clap/body-slap percussion.

Les Shelleys had the crowd from the get-go. They played a rich set of songs that began with the medley of In My Time of Dying (Blind Willie Johnson)/One Old Woman Lord (Ain’t No Lie), and then moved into sly 60s-kitsch with the winking Something Stupid (made famous by Frank and Nancy Sinatra).  Later, they went backwards in time with a playful take on the Andrews Sisters’ calypso chestnut, Rum and Coca Cola, and then revisited the 60s again with Angie’s lead on a cover of My World is Empty Without You (Holland-Dozier-Holland and made famous by The Supremes). But Les Shelleys also showed their more serious side to great effect with a stirring rendition of Bob Dylan’s harrowing The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

For the grand finale, Tom and Angie eschewed the stage, mics and instruments, and came out into the middle of the crowd for a rousing, stomping, acappella version of the found-song, Green Room. With the crowd providing loud clapping rhythm, Tom and Angie supplied soaring vocals and contrapuntal/counterpoint clapping and stomping to propel the song and the audience further and, regretfully, to the end of their fine set.

Les Shelleys head off shortly for a tour in Europe and then will spend time penning songs to go into the studio with PJ Harvey/Eels/M.Ward producer, Jon Parrish, in May for their first record of originals.  We wish them great success and hope they return to Santa Barbara soon.  Don’t miss ’em next time.

As for the headliners, The Weepies, their fans were enthralled, which was as it should be.

Our take:  the Weepies wept.

And we had to go.


If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Tom and Angie (Les Shelleys–This Tuesday at Soho)

by Lefort in Music

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Opening up tomorrow night at Soho for The Weepies are Santa Barbara faves, Tom Brosseau and Angela Correa, in the guise of their joint-effort, “Les Shelleys.”

We have been the beneficiaries of various visits from Tom and Angie over the years, together and alone, though it has been too long since their last visit.  It seems particularly long ago that we first heard them when they blew minds and warmed hearts at the first in-store performance they gave at Buffalo Records when it was on Calle Laurelles in Santa Barbara.  And we fondly remember when they played a house party or two here (their cover of the Pixies “Where is My Mind” is indelibly etched in our collective craniums).  Those were halcyon days. We were blown away by the talented duo and became instant fans, and have followed them (from near and afar) ever since.

Les Shelleys are touring in support of their soon-to-be released new CD.  Come check out their moving harmonies and winning ways tomorrow night at Soho.  Get there early for their set.  You won’t be disappointed.

In the meantime, check out an earlier Shelley’s song (Bob Dylan’s Billy) and a few other favorites of ours off of Tom’s solo records.

Les Shelleys–Billy

[audio:https://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/02-Track-02.mp3|titles=02 Track 02]

Tom Brosseau–The Dark Garage

[audio:https://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/01-The-Dark-Garage.mp3|titles=01 The Dark Garage]Tom Brosseau–The Portrait of George Washington

[audio:https://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/08-The-Portrait-Of-George-Washington.mp3|titles=08 The Portrait Of George Washington] Tom Brosseau–Plaid Lined Jacket

[audio:https://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/07-Plaid-Lined-Jacket.mp3|titles=07 Plaid Lined Jacket]


Hardly Strictly Arcade Fire–Four Days of Overload (Days 3 and 4)

by Lefort in Music

After Saturday’s Hardly venture, we headed across the Bay to our old home of Berkeley, parked and scrambled up the hill to the gloriously gregarious Greek Theater.   We have always loved the Greek, and given that the venue was one of the smallest on Arcade Fire’s tour and it was a GA show, we were particularly thrilled to be there.

We wrestled our way up in the pit to a great center-stage spot about 15 feet back and were feeling pretty good about our location until Santa Barbaran friends, the Crashin’ Crashaws, texted to let us know they were literally “front and center” and hanging on the stage rail.  Shameful show-offs!  Awesome.

Opener Calexico came out and meandered through their Indie-Mex mix that would have been far more easily tolerated at Hardly Strictly than as the opener for Arcade Fire.  While we enjoyed their cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart (it’s impossible to screw up that perfect song), we thought Calexico’s best use of the evening came later when their two horn players augmented Arcade Fire on Arcade’s Ocean of Noise.  Having also seen them put on a marginal show at Soho a few years back, this will be our last viewing unless they reinvigorate or reinvent.

After an anxious half-hour wait, the members of Arcade Fire came on to the stage and hit the ground running with their standard opener, Ready to Start.  And off we happily went into the Arcade world.

The eight members of Arcade Fire moved and played musical chairs ceaselessly through their show as if their lives depended on it.   It is clear that Arcade Fire is on a mission to become North America’s best live (and recorded) band.  To sum up (and with all due deference to Grizzly Bear and a host of others, but perhaps not to The National who are on par):  mission accomplished.  We’ll give them something to aspire to, however, since to these ears and eyes they’ve still got a ways to go to oust Radiohead from its rightful pedestal as the best live band on the planet.  But out of North American bands?  All theirs and The National’s.

Though we’ve seen them plenty on video and TV, we weren’t prepared for the majestic sound and momentum they bring to the stage.   As you can see from the set list below, they leaned heavily on their new album, “The Suburbs” (2010 album of the year, folks, no matter that it’s only October).  But they also packed their set with many of their best songs from their prior efforts.

After the highly appropriate, energetic starter, Ready to Start, they followed with the punk abandon of Month of May, which hearkened back to the early career rev of X or Elvis Costello.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get better, the band kicked things up a notch with favorites, Keep the Car Running, Neighborhood # 1(Laika) (“Come on Alex!!!) and No Cars Go. By this time we were wrung out, but begging for more.  Thankfully Regine took over to show off her great contributions to the band on Haiti and the new disc’s Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), with the latter recalling Blondie’s House of Glass and providing a dose of 80s New Wave further sweetened with Abba-esque inflections.   Throughout the night she beguiled by twirling ribbons and tweak-dancing around the stage, while switching from accordion, to various keyboards, to an updated hurdy-gurdy.

After Regine’s fine segment, the group gave new life to The Suburbs’ Modern Man and Rococo (the latter delivered with particular venom), and the epic Suburbs. As if that wasn’t enough the band continued to raise the bar for the remainder of its set with the phenomenal Ocean of Noise, Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),”  “We Used to Wait” and “Rebellion (Lies).”

During these proceedings, Butler managed to toss the crowd a water bottle, a tambourine and a microphone.  They give and they give and they give.  Crashaw tried to grab Win’s guitar when he teasingly lowered it into the crowd, but Win wrestled the guitar away and off they went.

And then they came back out for an encore of Intervention and Wake Up. Win Butler took time before moving in to Wake Up to thank their fans and make us aware that they know they have “the best job in the world and don’t take it for granted.” Though Wake Up has been the soundtrack to everything from a major motion picture to the dang Super Bowl, it still hits close enough to home for Butler to dedicate it to their late Grandpa Vino, who loved San Francisco and whose death inspired a great deal of “Funeral,” the album that started it all.  We had heard of the power of their closer, Wake Up, but we are suckers for the crowd-singalong and have never heard such emphatic, beautiful singing from an entire crowd.  The Greek’s 8,500 attendees let the band have it, and it was a resounding ocean of noise.  Stunning.

We would have loved to hear more, but really, what more can you ask for?

For those that didn’t catch their tour, below is a great, recent video (directed by Terry Gillam of “Brazil” fame) of Wake Up. Gives you a feel.  Then multiply it by 8,500 times.



We then sauntered back to our car, made our way back across the Bay, and dropped Justine right around midnight.  Given that it was our turn to “lay the tarp” at the Rooster Stage at Hardly Strictly, Brian and I decided to grab the tarp and go see if we could slip past security, drop the tarp and get home for some well-deserved sleep.  So we made our way over to Golden Gate Park at 12:30 and traversed the darkened trails to the Rooster Stage.  To our surprise, the security guard welcomed us in and even assisted by lighting our efforts as we put down our tarp front and center.  Mission accomplished, and off to sleep.


We awoke to great weather (read:  lighter fog) and ventured over to the farmers’ market at 9th and Irving, which was a great, typical-SF scene.  After, we raced over and caught the Felice Brothers’ great opening set on the Arrow Stage.  Though they complained repeatedly about the early hour, the Brothers rose to the occasion and delivered a great set of songs spanning the gamut from the rocking Run Chicken Run to several of Ian Felice’s fine ballads.  Legions of new fans were justly won that morning by the Felice Brothers.

Next up was Peter Himmelman, whom we had never heard but whose live show came highly touted by John Hawkes.   Once again Hawkes proved his worth as hagiographer.  Himmelman led off with a couple of great songs backed by his solid band and great backup singer, Kristin Mooney, but then began to really show his mettle as an extraordinary entertainer.  He brought up on stage San Francisco’s famed “Banjo Man” who has been playing banjo on the streets of San Francisco for decades.  Himmelman used Banjo Man to great effect, but when it came time, asked Banjo Man to “step way away from the mike; we’ll use you more sparingly as an effect, Banjo Man, like a fog machine.”  Too funny.  Himmelman then brought up a couple of college kids randomly from the audience to dance on stage.  Turns out they were from the “Central Coast.” The “Central Coast Dancers” (as Himmelman dubbed them) supplied great energy to the stage and helped draw the crowd further in and on their feet.  Himmelman rapped/ad-libbed some great odes to San Francisco, Banjo Man and the Central Coast Dancers, and his hilarious between-song-patter brought tears of laughter.  Himmelman is Entertainment, with the E writ large.  He closed his fine set with a great, anthemic crowd-pleaser, and on we went.

Here’s a video that provides a flavor for Himmelman live, though there’s a treasure trove of the same that can be found here:

We ate lunch nearby with the Indigo Girls playing their hits in the background, and then it was decision-time.  Picking between multiple acts on multiple stages is the challenge at Hardly Strictly, but we knew what needed to be done next:  Randy Newman.  Like many, we consider Newman to be one of America’s top songwriters of all time, and had never managed to catch him live before.  So we made our way up to the front of the stage and held ground.   Out came Newman, smiling in a blue suit.  He sat down solo at his Steinway and took us for a proud promenade through one of the best songbooks ever compiled.  From Louisiana to Marie to Baltimore to Birmingham to Short People to I Miss You, and on and on, Randy regaled us with his complex compositions and perfect piano playing, not to mention his signature vocals.   He was so good that the crowd even indulged and did not heckle him when he played I Love LA. And of course he was his legendary humorous self.  It was magic to these ears, and after his set we and the crowd were well-sated.

Check out two great readings by Newman of Louisiana 1927below.

We had decided we needed to beat it out of San Francisco before the throngs clogged the freeways so we went next door and caught five songs of Elvis Costello’s fine set (including Mystery Train, Blame it On Cain and New Amsterdam) before bee-lining it to Chez Ferrall where we said goodbye to our good friends, Giles and Theo (the Ferralls’ dogs), and hit the road.  Having looked at the closing sets, we would have thrown up our hands regardless.  Those that stayed were faced with having to pick between the largess of The Avett Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Patti Smith and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.  Good luck!  We hear that Sharon Jones stole the whole show, but we’re sure that those that attended the other stages and acts would stridently disagree.

On the drive home California strutted some more along the way.

And now we’re back, befuddled and shattered.   That’s life at the hop, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.


Hardly Strictly Arcade Fire–Four Days of Overload (Days 2 and 1/2)

by Lefort in Music

Following the fine Soho show on Thursday, we hopped in the car and drove up to San Luis Obispo for some college/family time and managed to hit the phenomenal Boo Boo Records in that fine town.  Boo Boo is one of the best record stores still extant, with great listening stations, staff picks, used CDs and a vast selection of all genres and media.  Please stop by and support this fine establishment when in San Luis Obispo.

After leaving SLO, we drove up the 101 with the windows down under seriously sashaying sunset skies.  We were somewhat embarrassed by California’s swaggering, supercilious show on the golden-hilled stage.

Not unsurprisingly, by the time we hit Gilroy the familiar fog had overtaken the sunset skies.  We eventually made San Francisco and were soon ensconced with our friends, The Ferralls, at their fine “Outer Inner Sunset” abode.  So great to see and meander with them again.

In the morning we walked the 10 minutes to Golden Gate Park and the free 10th annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (put on by gracious,  music-loving, investment-titan Warren Hellman).

We met up with Santa Barbarans, John Hawkes and new partner-in-music-addiction Art Tracewell, and prepared to be overindulged (strictly musically speaking).  We immediately had a good flavor for the proceedings with the seating choices and the 11am hip-flask-hippie surroundings.  The crowds were manageable at this juncture, but as the day wore on we were somewhat taken aback by the enormity of the crowds.  We guess it’s not hard to figure, though, given the impressive line-ups and the fact that admission was, oh say,  free (everything is free these days, isn’t it??).

We arrived just in time for Kelly Willis’ set and were quickly immersed in the warm, big sound of Willis and her band, and her measured and stirring songs.

We then set off for Trombone Shorty’s set and along the way enjoyed some of the fans who were multi-tasking (but not shorting) while Trombone Shorty slayed the audience with his updated R&B sound via New Orleans, and his phenomenal trombone and trumpet talents.  Will knit for Shorty.

Here was T-Shorty on Letterman a few months ago:

Then it was off to hear Jon Langford (leader of the great Mekons) and then the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  The Chocolate Drops proved to be one of the highlights of the entire Festival weekend with their incredibly impressive musicological variety and acumen.  Wow.  They do it all and won the crowd over with their bluegrass, soul, Scottish folk and various other stylings and instruments (kazoo, you name it), not to mention the great dancing of Rhiannon Giddens.  Check out some their stuff below.

Then Joan Baez came on and it was Flashback City for many.  You could close your eyes and imagine you were back in the 60s in San Francisco and what it was like to be present in that epoch, especially when that hippie on your left blew a sweet-smelling cumulus cloud your way.  Joan sounded and looked younger than her years, and reeled off many great songs from her songbook (though disappointed by not doing The Night They Drive Old Dixie Down or Love is Just a Four-Letter Word).  The highlight of her set for us was her wonderful, wistful song, Diamonds and Rust, which is her reminiscences of headier times in and out of relationship with Bob Dylan.  She closed her set with Dylan’s own Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, even intentionally mimicking Dylan’s vocal stylings to great effect.

Next up were Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, normally one of the highlights of any day or night of music.  The sound men just weren’t on their game this set, however, and a low-end hum detracted measurably from a great set of crowd favorites.  David Rawlings continues to be our favorite living guitarist for his soulful, skilled playing and arpeggios, and he did not disappoint this day.  It was great to see choir-boy Rawlings (one of the nicest men on the planet as far as we can tell) lose his cool, and walk over to the sound guys and rightfully blast them for minutes-on-end for their incompetence.  Though the sound and machinations somewhat diluted the effect of their set, Gillian’s songs and Rawlings’ guitar-playing and harmonies ultimately won out, capped off by the stirring I Hear Them All that segued into This Land is Your Land. Listening to 200,000+ people singing Woody Guthrie’s epic song was truly moving to our ears.  Also great was Conor Oberst’s inclusion for his song Lua, which can be viewed below.

Immediately after their set, we made a hasty retreat to Chez Ferrall, and prepared for the next portion of our day, Arcade Fire at the Greek Theater at UC Berkeley.  Bring ’em on.


Hardly Strictly Arcade Fire–Four Days of Overload (Day 1)

by Lefort in Music

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Four days have been wiped from our lives, and we’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Starting last Thursday through Sunday we made some serious musical rounds, along the way sampling ridiculous amounts of the finest music that North America has to offer.

Before heading up to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and breaking out to take in Arcade Fire at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater, we kicked off the whirlwind with The Felice Brothers and Conor Oberst at the intimate Soho on Thursday (one of only four such shows on this mini-tour).   As we’ve said before, we are huge fans of Mr. Oberst and his great songbook that’s laden with lyrical lagniappes.  We’ve seen Conor in various band iterations at the Santa Barbara Bowl, the Arlington Theater, the Granada Theater, the Henry Fonda and the Echoplex, but never this close or in this small of a venue.  He came out backed by the fab Felice Brothers, and laid it out for all to see.  We were struck this time in particular by the darkness on the edge of his town, yet were buoyed once again by his passionate delivery and wondrous wordplay.  We hope he finds what he’s looking for, on or off of his much-loved road.  His set was bountiful (see the set list below), and while there were periods of mere plateau, there were also plenty of peaks along the way.  Clear highlights of the evening were Lenders in the Temple, Cape Canaveral, We are Nowhere, Method Acting and Lua (one of the great, great songs of the American songbook).

Here is Lua at Soho, accompanied by the multi-talented James Felice, and below that the heart-rending Poison Oak as performed at the Casbah in San Diego:

Oberst Set:

Four Winds
Laura’s Song
Lenders in the Temple
Spring Cleaning
We Are Nowhere
Well Whiskey
No One Would Riot for Less
Cape Canaveral
Ten Women
I Know You
Easy Lucky Free

Poison Oak

I’ve Been Eating for You

Train Underwater

Method Acting
Lua (Conor and James)

Opening and ably supporting Conor were our renewed faves, the Felice Brothers.  While we might prefer to have heard the Mystic Valley Band in support of Conor, the Felices shone through with their musicianship and ardent delivery both while supporting Conor and while killin’ in their opening set.   Highlights were the charging Run, Chicken, Run, along with Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Wonderful Life and Ponzi. We missed Cooperstown, but won’t complain too much.  We can’t get enough of Ian Felice’s alternately world-weary, Dylan-esque vocals and literate lyrics, and his stage-pounding delivery, nor the phenomenal musicianship of James Felice on accordion and keys, and Greg Farley’s fiddling with his fiddle and sound-effects knobs while geeking hip-hop (first ever white hip-hop fiddler?).

Below is a sample of their live gem, Frankie’s Gun: