The War on Drugs Rocks Marathon Music Works

The War on Drugs @ Marathon
The War on Drugs @ Marathon

Despite severe weather warnings, on Monday I and a healthy crowd of Nashvillians head over to Marathon Music Works for The War on Drugs’ exclusive brand of heartland rock. Attendees sport beards, boots, flannel, and, many of them, years of life experience. I’m pretty sure this is the same multigenerational group that showed up in place of Vanderbilt students when Quake accidentally booked My Morning Jacket several years ago.

During their 14-song set, The War on Drugs makes it plain that they are a guitar band. Frontman Adam Granduciel is brought a different guitar before each song, and he goes into extended soloing throughout the night. The sound is straightforward and expansive, and upbeat numbers like “Red Eyes” have fans swaying and bobbing their heads. Two young lumberjack types in my vicinity start up an air guitar band.

Adam Granduciel in the Spotlight for "Suffering"
Adam Granduciel in the Spotlight for “Suffering”

The remaining instruments play a supporting role. The other band members are a keyboardist, rhythm guitarist, bassist, drummer, and a baritone sax player. At first glance the sax player stands out because of his instrument, but quickly he’s revealed to be a subtle part of the band’s atmosphere instead of a gimmick. The sax never takes the lead, but instead layers into the densely mixed structure. Excluding Granduciel’s harmonica outros and on-the-prairie ballads like “Suffering” and “Lost in the Dream”, War on Drugs could pass respectably as a shoegaze outfit. Though tracks like “An Ocean in Between the Waves” and “Under the Pressure” exceed seven and nine minutes, respectively, the band plays hard throughout.

In the live setting at Marathon the music develops a natural and full quality, and the sound clearly envelops the area. As a relatively new venue, Marathon Music Works strikes an impressive balance between friendly rusticity and a modern sheen. Granted, the former quality can partly be attributed to the style of music of the night since electronic bands I’ve seen here before (Beach House, Passion Pit) had me mostly thinking about the second part. Either way, the versatile atmosphere and open layout makes Marathon an excellent addition to the Nashville scene. The War on Drugs certainly fit right in, and I’d be excited to see them back in this space in the future.

Check out War on Drugs’ great 2014 release, Lost in the Dream:

Quake Performers Shine Despite Poor Acoustics, AC in Memorial Gym

The first thing that I noticed walking in to Memorial Gym last night for Commodore Quake was the oppressive heat.  The second thing that I noticed once I found a seat was the atrocious, garbled acoustics of our re-purposed basketball court.  I wish I didn’t feel like I have to include these sour notes as the very first thing in this recap.  I wish I hadn’t noticed these things about Quake at all.  But most of all, I sincerely wish that these weren’t the most memorable aspects of my entire night at Quake.

This year's Quake logo
This year’s Quake logo

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Local Acts Shine at Exit/In–Monday, October 6, 2014

Joel Levi headlined Soundstamp's local music showcase at Exit/In on Monday night.
Joel Levi headlined Soundstamp’s local music showcase at Exit/In on Monday night.

Exit/In is one of Nashville’s most famous and beloved venues.  One look above the bar at the wall of artists who have performed on its stage is enough to send the tingles of history down your spine.  Monday night, though, Exit/In’s legendary stage was devoted to three local acts: Joel Levi, James and the Wild Spirit, and Vanderbilt’s own Kid Freud.  The trio of bands, though quite different in genre and style, combined to put on one hell of a show.

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Cello, You Got a Bass

victorwooten.com
victorwooten.com

On September 18th, virtuosic bass player Victor Wooten premiered his unprecedented electric bass concerto entitled “The Bass Whisperer: Concerto for Electric Bass and Orchestra” with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The concert attracted an interesting conglomeration of regular symphony-goers as well as jazz and R&B fans, which for someone like Victor Wooten, who has preached how music is the perfect medium for peace, love, and even diplomacy, must have been the ideal sight to see. However, for us concert attendees watching someone who many believe is the best bassist of our generation, maybe of all time, perform with such soul and passion, that was the ideal sight to see. In the spirit of Wooten’s complete disregard of “genre” for the sake of musical exploration, it is only appropriate to try to learn from him and maybe delve into the orchestral world ourselves for a little bit.

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Tom Krell Shows Exit/In How to Dress Well

How to Dress Well performs in Nashville. Source: the author's phone.
How to Dress Well performs in Nashville.

By most metrics, How to Dress Well still has a lot of room to grow in the music industry. This past Tuesday, singer/songwriter Tom Krell’s first appearance in Nashville meant a twelve dollar Tuesday show at Exit/In that maybe half sold out. The intimate crowd size and locale seemed much more befitting to How to Dress Well’s early lo-fi work than to 2014’s immaculately produced “What Is The Heart?” While his music is influential to similar indie-R&B peers like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, Krell is several orders of magnitude behind the breakout recognition those two have enjoyed. Critical appeal has grown with each full-length release, and so has both the production quality and amount of potential breakthrough singles, which makes it hard to say why Tom Krell has yet to experience a higher level of cultural significance.

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Live on the Green: Being Off the Green

I’ve been to Live on the Green three times in all. My first time was last year as a freshman and my was it wonderful. Naturally, I returned this year and went to the first show I could – Head and the Heart. However, I was most excited for Cage the Elephant. While I imagined myself watching from a spot close to the barriers, carrying crowd surfers, and fighting for room to breath, I took on a very different perspective as a photographer backstage instead.

Live on the Green through a different lens
Live on the Green through a different lens

The opportunity arose through the Vanderbilt Hustler. I spent most of my summer exploring the world of photography and was interested in joining the photo staff for the school newspaper. Upon seeing the availability of shooting (taking photos) Live on the Green the Thursday Cage the Elephant was playing, I immediately volunteered. And just like that, I had backstage passes to what was bound to be an incredible show.

One fun fact I learned about concert photography is that in most cases, once a set goes on photographers are only allowed to stay in the “pit” (the space between the barriers and the stage) for the first three songs until they are escorted out. I got there just in time for Johnnyswim. One thing that I noticed as a photographer was the movement of the musicians. We are usually so focused on the sound they make, but their stage presence is so incredibly important. I suppose that some musicians make it look natural, but I could tell that they are particular in how they stand, hold their instruments, and where they move.

Delta Spirit, the next band up, was a rock band and adhered to their own form of rhythm. They were a bit more show-y than the acoustic Johnnyswim and the lighting and motion reflected this. As the night went on, photographing the singers became more difficult as night fell and lighting became more difficult. However, I noticed that the most striking pictures I took were of the people in motion – frozen in time with guitar in hand or holding that high note on the mic. It became all the more magical.

Finally, Cage the Elephant went on. As fantastic as they are live, they were a nightmare to shoot. One could say that the better the stage presence of a band (engaging with the audience, moving around the stage, immersing themselves in the music) the more difficult they are to photograph. The lead singer was all over the place and ended up crowd surfing, jumping on the guitarist, and going through various stages of stripping. But wow what a show. The energy was like nothing I had ever seen. Having to capture these moments of insanity and excitement made me realize just how much work goes into performance. Playing music is one thing, but stealing the spotlight is a gift that so few people possess.

The craziness that ensued.
The craziness that ensued.

Moral of the story is next time you’re at a concert, don’t just pay attention to the sounds. You could do that on your own computer or iPod. Instead, make sure to also focus on their expressions, their movement along to their own music, and how they react to a swarm of people chanting their name. What you see may surprise you.

My favorite shot of the night
My favorite shot of the night