Down And Out In San Francisco And New York – Part One

Glasswerk writer Daniel Dylan Wray went off on his jolly's to America and left us all behind. To help us feel like we lived it too he's kindly agreed to send us the highlights of his musical adventures in a special feature we like to call 'Down an Out In San Francisco and New York'.

San Francisco is a city with a split personality. It's a sociopath, it's a schizophrenic monster that lurks within the depths of the very highest of society. A stroll down the block and you are hurdling the homeless that cover the streets like chewing gum stuck to the sidewalks, the stench of urine hits you, leaves you gasping for air, unable to speak as you hold your breath. You avoid piles of human shit that line the pavements like they're mines; This is dangerous territory, blinded and gagging from the stench that emits leaves you staggering blindly forward awaiting the inevitable. However a mere few steps forward and you are transported into wealth, wonder and beauty. Giorgio Armani is minutes away from Claude, the guy you think is lying dead in the street, yet the city seems to live comfortably arm in arm with their opposing traits. And this is a city of staggering sights and beauty, which makes it so wonderful that it is so soaked and steeped in such opposing aesthetics and atmospheres.

Whilst you live here it's actually quite charming. In fact it's beyond charming, it's diversity and culture that suffers from being suppressed by the illusion and the labeling of being unsavory, dangerous and foul(Which of course sometimes it can be, like anywhere)I've been serenaded by a transvestite outside a bar for a dollar, bought a stolen book on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds from a bum on the street for $5, Offered numerous 'Hits' on pipes in the old hippy district. Seen a man walking the streets in Buttless leather trousers being walked by his partner of whom he was attached to with chains, via his nipples. And I haven't even reached New York yet.

So down to the music. Two weeks spent here now, and due to depart in a day or two. Nine bands covered in a space of four days(The remaining time was relatively quiet, musically).

Upon my arrival I discovered that the new Conor Oberst album was available to stream on-line in full, so like the hungry dog I was, depleted, starved and drained from twenty four hours non-stop traveling I sought refuse in the arms of a man I have grown to adore over the last six years or so; and like the old friend he is, he greeted me with open arms.
The album is actually exactly what I expected it to be, some die hard Bright Eyes fans may write this album off as being soft, but they are of course, morons; Actually no, they are not morons, merely ignorant buffoons. But I speak from experience not from might. I wrote a review for Cassadaga a year or so ago, I said I found it timid, lyrically lacking, overproduced and generally empty in parts. But such is the beauty, intelligence and power of the album that it took me a while to realise its true depths. It also taught me to NEVER review an album via the means of a laptop computer and their speakers, it's completely unfair to the artist, what you miss is immeasurable and therefore insolent in my book, it wasn't until I bought the vinyl that I started to realise some of my mistakes.

Anyway, this album Is very much a continuation of Conor's spiritualistic mind set that occupied him during Cassadaga. This is basically a Bright Eyes record minus Mike Mogis, the decision to make it a solo album isn't for an artistic standpoint or statement, it is simply a nod to the contribution of Mike Mogis, Conor himself declaring he just couldn't call it a Bright Eyes album without his input. It feels very much like a partner to Cassadaga, and going back to you die hards(which I am completely and utterly one of you may I add) , it is easy to write some of the stuff off, because that immediate, ferocious and damn right frightening intensity that plagued so many of his early albums, isn't making the appearances or apparent appearances like you want them to. However they are merely in disguise.

Conor is clearly going through changes, and has perhaps already emerged from the other side. Maturity is the easiest label to smack on him, which is true in a lot of degrees; however I think the spiritual cleansing that Conor has clearly gone through is being massively overlooked as it's impact on his music is staggeringly apparent. Ancient Indian philosophies are what he is digesting by the bucket load, and who can blame him? When somebody has been that pent up, that angry and that fucked up, why shouldn't he want to do some cleansing? This is where the naysayers may well perk up, well just before you dog's start to bark let me neuter you, JUST BECAUSE HIS MUSIC ISN'T AS LOUD AND INTENSE AND AS YOU THINK IT SHOULD BE, DOESN'T MEAN IT IS LACKING IN CONTENT, POWER, BELIEF, INTENSITY OR ANGER. He has simply found a new means of expressing it, I'm never one to draw conclusions of such sweeping statements but in terms of career paths i.e. Comparison of time, regularity of releases and general direction etc. He is similar if not parallel at times to Dylan, and this isn't to say “He's the new Dylan” because I plain refute any statement that labels artists with that statement, not just because it is overused and lazy journalism but because I always fail to see why people don't ask, what's wrong with the current Dylan? Why the need to constantly plaster any upcoming songwriter that shows signs of lyrical greatness with it? It is simply unnecessary. But the comparison is drawn because Conor has been through his Dylan circa '66 period, the drugs, the number 1's, the mass praise, the poster boy image, the political associations and the backlash of all of the above(albeit culminated in a different manner) And much like Dylan, he has never suppressed these feelings and emotions but simply transformed them, and progressed. Which is surely THE most important factor any artist can posses? Dylan couldn't write those albums forever, just as Conor couldn't. This isn't to say those parts aren't missed, because they are. Any Dylan fan wants the next 'Hard Rains A Gonna Fall' Just as every Conor fan wants another 'Let's Not Shit Ourselves', but these progressions deserve respect, and my point is: this album, like Cassadaga not only deserves respect but demands it. Is it not selfish to expect so much, when so much has already been given? But this is the tough aspect of being objective, because we immediately want what is best for us and at times it's easy to get lost in the midst of things, and we should remember artists as proven, beautiful and at times life changing as Conor Oberst have earned the right to create their own path regardless of our subjective wants and needs. All it takes is a little heartbreak or the equivalent and we're back to the anguish we once loved, Once again just look at Dylan some eight years later with 'Blood On The Tracks'.

We all know the talent that Conor possesses and if you can't look beyond the current direction then don't lose faith because you will only kick yourself harder than ever, when he responds with an album of such angst ridden magnitude, you'll think that Fevers and Mirrors was him in a happy mood, the question isn't if, it's when? So until then simply revel in the joys of another great record, one that speaks no pretense, arrogance or malice (well, okay malice. It is a Conor “If you love me that's not my fault” Oberst record) Well I guess that covers the album without actually mentioning one single song, but perhaps I'll save that for next weeks update.

Okay, so live music in San Francisco. Sunday July 27th. Thee Parkside. Indie-Mart. An originally unintentional gig, this was a vintage fair in a pub car park, however I checked out the band that was due to play before we went, due to an uncompromising computer I couldn't listen to their music but I made sure I got down in time based on their influences. So 3pm on a Sunday in a dive bar. Enter The Lovely Eggs. Boy/Girl duo from Lancaster. Holly radiates a coy but endearing nervousness, as she takes centre stage armed with a fender Jag and her at times dainty but at times blistering voice. David sits behind the drums, xylophone and ukulele. They merge a concoction of twee, riot girl and alt. However, unlike so many twee artists that often feel sickeningly contrived, false and damn right ridiculous The Lovely Eggs are refreshing, because they radiate something that I haven't seen seep out of anybody in such long period of time, in that they're fun. They are warm and gracious, I think it should be mandatory for The Lovely Eggs to play for people every Sunday afternoon, as they are the perfect accompaniment.

Monday 28th August. The Great American Music Hall. This is without doubt one of, if not the best venue I have ever been too. It’s quite frankly stunning, it’s grand, it’s sweeping and it’s breathtaking, It somehow feels more suitable for Royalty, rather than a couple of skater kids from L.A. Tonight is an injection of L.A, all three bands head from there. Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko, and No Age. First up is Abe Vigoda, They don’t have any sudden impact and feel a tad tiresome, the guitarists’ irritating nonsense filled banter certainly doesn’t help. However then they get going, guitars roll around one another seamlessly, they build up rapid tension quite furiously at times. They actually evoke a real British sound at times, one that reminds you of crappy British indie bands, but this comparison bodes well because they annihilate any shred of mediocrity that so many of the above mentioned posses. They resemble British Sea Power at their most monumental and blistering peak. Most of the music relies heavily around the instrumentation, which is further testament to their power as they manage to create a flurry of energy and build up throughout. They perhaps overrun their set, and it does taint it somewhat, but it’s still the best opening act I’ve seen in a long while.

Mika Miko up next. I’ve always liked this band, but not loved them. There was always something within their music that stopped me from fully embracing it, I’d punch and kick at the invisible wall to break through, but it was no use. I remained an outsider looking in. So I was hoping that my first live experience of the band would be enough to knock it down. So out strut a bunch of girls that look too young to smoke let alone drink, then as they start to play it becomes one of those ‘What the fuck was I doing at eighteen, when I could have been doing this’ moments. They are too young, too exuberant, and too fucking good. The lead singers slump and shake there way across the stage, one using an old telephone as a microphone. They slash and pierce there way through their songs; they are brutal but concise, raw but clinical. As the saxophone comes out they sound a lot like Liliput, they sound like X-Ray Spex, and they also sound like a female fronted Yummy Fur. I’m genuinely thrown by how good they are. They swap instruments, prance and dance across the stage, but before you know it it’s all over. The encore lasts all of a minute, and as that last note hits I can hear the sound of bricks plummeting to the ground and I step proudly through the rubble to now become a lover of this band.

No Age seem to be the ‘darlings’ of all this critical at the moment, their last two albums received mass acclaim, and they now reside at Sub Pop, gaining notoriety by the minute. The sound isn’t great, the guitar is fine, but the drummers vocals just lack clarity and ultimately, volume. However, for a band with a singing drummer with sound problems, and one guitar. They make an obscene amount of noise, which is just what I had hoped for. One thing that strikes you is the diversity and variety that they mange to create with such musical restrictions; each song feels like a rebirth of sorts, rather than a duplicate. They create catatonic caterwauls that results in a powerhouse of noise. However as they play on, the crowd starts to thin, and they do in agreement lose focus somewhat towards the end. One band member leaves the stage and says goodnight, the other wants to play another song so he plays on his own, then the other comes back out. So by the time they come to play ‘Everybody’s Down’ half the crowd has left either via confusion or boredom, I’m not sure. Perhaps their limits did start to show, but their talent never disappeared, not for a second.

July 29th. The Independent. Jay Reatard tonight. Again, a much hyped figure of the punk/garage/noise seen, much like No Age. A split single with Deerhunter released just last week, sees Jay at his career peak. They take to the stage at 11pm, and I think are off it by 11.29pm. They absolutely tear through their set, ‘Oh It’s Such A Shame’ is reduced to a 90 second savage beast, whereas it’s normally a lot longer of a savage beast. The only communication is when Jay shouts the song names, which I presume is only for the bands benefit, as to know which song to play; everything is so quick there literally isn’t time to look down at a piece of paper. Flying V guitars are pounded, just as there heads are, you could almost be mistaken at times for walking into somebody’s garage and watching three heavy metal freaks playing along and head banging to their favourite record. However, underneath the wall of noise, there is melody and structure, ones, which aren’t too far from your basic pop song. However, this is the enjoyment, it’s listening to music on the verge of so many genres that you just don’t know which way it’s going to go, and you never really do, because by the time you think you might now, the show is over and you’re leaving the venue.

New York Next week. Expect reviews of Black Lips, Deerhunter, King Khan and hopefully a ton more, depending on my ability to go to places for free.

Share this!