Three years since I left Portland for NYC, the former city’s late-night food truck excursions, karaoke make-out sessions and forever gray, forever drizzly winters seem remote like a hazy memory of an ex-lover’s touch. On Friday night inside Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Portland-based timeless pop/rock act Radiation City unlocked past glories/misadventures on Hoyt, Burnside, Belmont and many other streets and intersections whose names I forget. Of course these memories existed a continent away, if not a lifetime, but for the band’s half-hour set all of these ghosts felt present in one room.
Somewhere along my journey from the bayou to the Big Apple I failed Madames Naquin, Orillion and Benoit. The conversational French I learned under their tutelage over six years in middle school, high school and college gradually washed away like my native south Louisiana’s wetlands, leaving me a stereotypical monolingual American. In my limited encounters with French-speaking tourists in New York City I’ve tried to resurrect the faint heartbeat of my ancestral language, often to their puzzlement, amusement or both. Same goes for when girlfriends, noting my Cajun heritage, request I speak the language of amour, a request more seductive in theory than practice. After all, it’s hard to seduce someone when your language mastery sounds like Quasimodo looks. Il est pas beau, as the French say.
On Friday afternoon under a tent erected across the street from a ginormous strawberry shortcake Cleveland dystopian rock trio Cloud Nothings inspired one of the most delicious ironies I’ve witnessed in New York City. The small band of NYU students gathered in front of the impromptu stage – god bless ‘em and their overpriced educations – shouted along with Dylan Baldi lines like “I thought I would be more than this” and “No future, no past” with the gusto of true believers during the band’s Strawberry Festival headlining gig. I mean, if they identify this strong with Baldi’s words at 20 or 21, good luck when they find themselves struggling to stay afloat in the job market, while tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
But for one afternoon everything was cakey, noisey and sublime.
Under the social tab in my Gmail sit Meetup invites for feminist book clubs, dog rescue tech groups (???) and amateur pool. Writing groups too. A lot of writing groups. These emails are bold, designating them as unread.
I will begin opening them – and who knows, start attending Meetups? – after hearing the company’s CEO and co-founder Scott Heiferman discuss his vision, both for the company and the world, during this morning’s Uncubed NYC session. Uncubed NYC is a networking and job prospecting event for techies. While some of the conference’s other techie portions on 3-D printing and software building sailed over my non-techie ginger head Heiferman’s nervy, humanist evangelism on the value of community, friendship and connection created through technology inspired in me a sense of reflection. It provided a vision of the future not only with brains but with heart.
Titus Andronicus, the best damn rock band in Jersey or anywhere else for the matter, announced its latest album Thursday – a 29-track, 93-minute opus titled The Most Lamentable Tragedy based on frontman Patrick Stickles’s manic depression. With the album announcement came a new song, “Dimed Out”, a three-minute blast of mania and defiance that sprints to its conclusion, never stopping for air. I cannot wait to lose my shit to “Dimed Out” when Titus Andronicus play a five-night residency at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn this July. Tickets are on-sale for $10. Yes! $10! Rock and roll gods, I tell ya!
Retro soul artist/high-waisted pants enthusiast Leon Bridges’s debut album, Coming Home, will not be carried at Starbucks when it drops June 23. The Seattle coffee chain stopped carrying CDs earlier this year. Otherwise, Bridges would make a perfect candidate for a “fresh and new” artist whose music goes down easy with your overpriced, sugar-laden coffee drink. Forget that the 25-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, owns a top-secret teleportation device that allows him to travel between 1965 and the present without any ill effects.
On Thursday, Bridges officially released his fourth song, “River”, and all snark aside, don’t be surprised if it leaves you slack-jawed and misty-eyed when you hear it. It’s the kind of song that would sound good in a park, in a church, in a car with the windows down, pretty much anywhere you can imagine. Bridges could be this year’s Sam Smith (or yesteryear’s Sam Cooke). I know, I know. It sounds too good to be true: the idea of a black man, not a white man, stealing the sound of the black ghosts of R&B past and becoming famous for it. (Couldn’t put the snark aside for long, it seems.)
The defining pop culture statement about Baltimore’s reaction to Freddie Gray’s April 19 death in police custody – in a year that will be defined by such repeated and senseless acts of institutional racism – came almost two months before this heinous tour made “Charm City” its latest stop.
Kendrick Lamar’s single “The Blacker The Berry” presented a narrator awake to how little those in power cared about his life as a black man, and the frustration and anger inherent in such a realization. The narrator of “The Blacker The Berry” and Baltimore are marching hand in hand this week, it occurred to me as I watched and read reports of peaceful protests and riots occurring in the wake of the 25-year-old Gray’s death.
Baltimore, a once great American industrial city decimated by corporate outsourcing and the phony War On Drugs, now stands at attention, eyes open to the long festering injustice at its doorstep.
Below is an examination of Baltimore’s upheaval and unrest viewed through the prism of “The Blacker The Berry”. It’s worth noting that while Lamar’s narrator refers to himself as a hypocrite throughout the song I view this as a storytelling device the artist employs to provoke thought about the senselessness of black-on-black crime in the face of such an oppressive, corrupt and hateful society. This descriptor by no means disqualifies the narrator’s point of view.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Two Frenchmen adorned in glitzy robot costumes, a Canadian sporting a massive mouse head and a washed-up American sex goddess take the stage for a press conference announcing a new artist-owned, high-fidelity music streaming service. R&B star Alicia Keys manages to trump them all – Daft Punk, Deadmau5 and Madonna – in terms of sheer ridiculousness and unintentional humor while not wearing a disguise of any kind.
Oh, wait. This isn’t a joke. This actually happened last week.
In my 20s I spent most of my meager journalist earnings attending concerts, in shitty dives, stadiums and sun-soaked festivals across America. So much money, in fact, that I depleted my savings account, my mom reminded me on a quarterly basis. That’s neither here nor there. It dawned on me at age 30 someone else should provide me free tickets, in order to sustain my concert habits. So far, so good in 2015.
That brings me to two shows I’ve attended/reviewed in the past 10 days.
New York City’s first taste of spring arrives today in the form of 60-degree temperatures. Until yesterday snow piled on the edge of the city’s sidewalks. 2015 is still in its infancy but it is shaping up as a monster music year. Below are my favorite tracks so far from major artists like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Alabama Shakes to personal faves like And And And, Aero Flynn and Phony Ppl. Read through my Favorite Songs of 2015 (1st Quarter edition) list and listen to the songs on my Spotify playlist below.