Leaving us with high expectations and wide-eyed anticipation, Alt-J’s first album, An Awesome Wave, burst onto the music scene making a name for the English indie rock band with singles “Breezeblocks” and “Fitzpleasure.” Living up to and exceeding our expectations, their sophomore album, This Is All Yours, was released Tuesday offering us a different side of Alt-J that had not been shown in the past.
So you’re a brand new DJ. A little excited, a little nervous to talk aloud to who knows how many listeners. You know the words to every song on The Essential Billy Joel, both discs. In high school, you rode shotgun down two-lane country roads in your friend’s doorless Jeep, sticking your bare feet out the side while the first Mumford & Sons album drowned out the cicadas. No one else in 11th grade had heard of The Decemberists or Regina Spektor. You thought you were pretty cool; you went to public school. But now, in college, the older DJs in WRVU are intimidating, and you don’t know any of the bands they’re talking about. You’re me, freshman year.
Two years ago, I spent a lot of time hunting for new music, though I wasn’t very efficient at it. Pitchfork was the only music journalism site I’d heard of, and I spent lots of time there without understanding the context of most of the articles. If I could do it all over again, here’s the resources I’d have used.
Boasting crowds approaching 20,000 each week, Nashville prides itself in having one of the best free music festivals in the country. You heard me right, free. Lightning 100, the only local independent radio station, brings in the best live acts for four Thursday nights full of food, fun and music then continues the party the last weekend by extending this Thursday night show into a whole weekend festival spicing up our Friday and Saturday. This year the lineup was better than ever with bigger bands and the same long sets. All of these Thursdays and weekend performances add up to 22 live sets by Cage the Elephant, The Head and the Heart, Capital Cities, Ingrid Michaelson, City and Colour, Jake Bugg, G. Love and Special Sauce, The Wild Feathers, Augustana, Delta Spirit, The Lone Bellow, Wild Cub, The Features, The Weeks, Spanish Gold, Johnnyswim, LP, All Them Witches, Goodbye June, Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes, Sugar and the Hi-Lows and Phin.
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.
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.
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.
Today, Vanderbilt will host its most esteemed musical visitor, excluding Rites and Quake, since Billy Joel (and Michael Pollack) captivated a sold-out Langford Auditorium almost two years ago. Matisyahu burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, delivering a powerful reggae sound laced with traces of rock, hip-hop, and his trademark Judaism-inspired lyrics. It was a wonder to behold him commanding the stage in traditional Hasidic dress, complete with yarmulke and full beard, while performing in a style that broke the mold of Jewish orthodoxy and tradition. We listened in awe as “King Without a Crown” leapt to #28 on the Billboard Top 100, easily the highest a song with explicitly Jewish lyrics has ever charted. We sang along to the powerful “One Day,” which was remixed with new verses by Akon. And then those of us outside the reggae community allowed Matisyahu to slip from our consciousness.
The Matisyahu who will be walking around West End today looks far different from the Matisyahu of ten years ago. Gone is the beard, as is the yarmulke–he wears a clean-shaven look topped by a mop of graying hair. The music, while it still contains Judaism at its heart, has become more secular and more diverse in style, reflecting the man’s continuing spiritual journey. But Matisyahu is as active as ever, having released his fifth studio album Akeda in June and touring extensively in support of the LP. In light of this metamorphosis, let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights of Matisyahu’s decade-long career.
In early June, the elusive experimental hip hop group Death Grips released the first half of a double LP called The Powers That B, effectively dropping a bomb on the indie music community from up their sleeves. Soon after, the band announced the completion of Death Grips as a project and the cancellation of all future tour dates. Now we find ourselves in a post-Death Grips world, except one of these days we can expect Death Grips to release the second half of The Powers That B in a similarly sudden fashion.
Hey, we’re back. That’s right, the writers here on wrvu.org are ready for another semester to report/analyze/fangirl/discuss musical topics that we find interesting. However, over the summer there was a full three months of activity that we left untouched. For this reason, I have outlined some of the interesting headlines and releases of the summer.
With all students — both old and new — arriving back on campus this weekend, our e-staff curated the last playlist of our summer series based on our favorite songs from and about the bustling happy bright shining wonderful happy city of Nashville.
Enjoy, and stay tuned for the return of our live shows September 1st!